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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 11/24/2009

Planning to spend loads of time with your college freshman home for Thanksgiving? Well, don’t.

By Valerie Strauss

So your college freshman is coming home for Thanksgiving, the first trip back since he/she moved away--and you have cleared your schedule to spend every waking minute with your kid. You probably shouldn’t have bothered.

Most of you should be prepared to see very little of your son or daughter, who is returning to test their new self in old haunts.

A friend of mine just learned this when she talked to her daughter about all the things they might do together now that they would be reunited. The response from her child: Whatever it is, we have to do it in one night, because I’m booked with old friends for the rest of the time.

However much this may bother you, learn to live with it.

You may want to be in control of your child’s every moment, but most kids aren’t going to go along with that program. It is all part of the learning process for you and your child.

When they return home, you and everybody else still see them as the person who left back in August. But they aren’t. At college, freshman often try on new faces with people who never knew them as they were in high school. It can be difficult for them to negotiate who they are becoming against expectations of who they used to be.

Some colleges post advice on their websites for parents on how to deal with their kids on their first Thanksgiving trip home. The University of Southern California, for example, has on its website an article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution with advice on its “Advice for Parents Program” page.

Here are some of the tips it and others offer parents try to treat their children like the adults they are very slowly becoming:

*Be positive. Tell them they look wonderful, and you are delighted to see them--without making any remarks about how much weight they’ve gained, or how bad their skin or hair look.

*Gently solicit information. Don’t demand that they tell you details about their life but instead try to have a conversation with an opener such as, “Tell me about your friends.”

*Listen carefully and be reassuring. A tough bravado may hide deep anxiety about living away and starting college. If your child has not yet found a place at college--and many haven’t--suggest they give it more time.

*Don’t grill your kid about whether they are having sex and taking drugs. You can remind them about your values and preferences, but threats won’t get you anywhere.

*Don’t grill your kid about whether they are doing homework. It’s their problem.

*You have a right to insist on consideration and you have a right to insist that your child doesn’t do anything unsafe or stupid--but remember that your child now makes most daily decisions for themselves, and things won’t go well if you try to take that away.

*No matter how much your child may provoke you, stay calm. Getting angry won’t help make the weekend memorable for the right reasons.

Of course, lots of kids won’t be coming home. The cost of a ticket is too high, or they are going to their new boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s house.

Get used to that, too.

For more on Education, please see

By Valerie Strauss  | November 24, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Life, Parents  | Tags:  Thanksgiving, college freshman  
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My mother still talks about how horrible I was when I came home for my first Thanksgiving break from college thirty years ago. We laugh now, but at the time she was appalled by my crabiness and unease--after all the freshmen went back to school, she discovered that all of her friends had had similar experiences with their kids. I think it's just one of those awkward developmental stages--the new college student is clinging on to her sense of her new identity and then, mere weeks after leaving home, is plunged back into childhood. It isn't pretty, but at least it's brief.

Posted by: ekastor | November 24, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

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