Sending a child off to college is exciting and frightening - for both parents and students. It is an experience that will change both of you. And there are few hard and fast rules on how to do it right. But a few guidelines, gleaned from college handbooks, may help with long-distance parenting:

Is your student homesick? Don't ask. The power of suggestion can be strong. The idea of being homesick may not arise until someone suggests it. The process of adjusting to new activities and surroundings can be be challenging. Encourage your student to stay busy, to make new friends and get involved. Don't worry about being missed - you will be. But don't make it a big issue.Write (even if your student doesn't write back). Most students are still anxious for family ties and the security those ties bring, despite their surges of independence. So write often with news of home and family. But don't expect an answer to every letter. Nowadays many colleges offer free access to e-mail, so that is another way for parents and students to keep in contact.

Ask questions (but not too many). Parents must learn to walk a fine line between what is perceived as interest and interference. "I-have-a-right-to-know" type questions and nagging should be avoided. But honest inquiries and "between friends" communication and discussion can help further the parent-freshman relationship.

Don't worry (too much) about depressing news. Sometimes troubles (a flunked test, the end of a relationship and a shrunken T-shirt all in one day) can seem overwhelming to a student. This is the time they feel the urge to communicate with home. So, you never hear about the A paper or the new friend or a culinary triumph. Be patient with "nothing-is-going-right" messages; remember, you're providing a service as an advice dispenser, sympathetic ear/

punching bag that can work wonders for a frustrated student.

Visit (but not too often). An occasional visit will give the student a chance to introduce the important people in both his worlds to each other. But spur-of-the-moment "surprises" are usually not appreciated.

Don't lay the "best years of your life" scenario on too thick. Freshman years can be fun and exciting, but they can also be filled with indecision, insecurity, disappointment and mistakes. Parents who believe that all college students get good grades, know what they want to major in, always have activity-packed weekends, make thousands of friends and lead worry-free lives are wrong. Parents that perpetrate the "best years" stereotype may be setting their students up for disappointments. Those who accept and understand the highs and lows of student life can provide support and encouragement as it is needed.

Prepare for your student's return. When vacations come or the school year ends, realize that your student will be different than when he left home - more mature and independent. Plan to sit down and discuss the rules of living at home. Parents need to respect the individuality their kids have worked hard to achieve, but students need to know there are rules and courtesies to be observed.

Trust your student. For students, finding themselves is difficult enough without feeling that the people whose opinions they respect most are second-guessing them. Let your student know you trust his or her judgment, and remember that mistakes are part of the growing process.