Your kid just proposed a (slightly outlandish) idea to you: “I want to take a Gap Year.” Maybe you’re 100% on board (you don’t need lots of convincing to understand its benefits) or maybe you’re still on the fence. It’s okay to worry – after all, you have your child’s best interests in mind, right? Regardless of which side of the support spectrum you fall in, here’s everything a parent needs to know to help their kid rock a Gap Year.
Ah, yes. Money. The necessary evil (and backbone) to a successful Gap Year. The important thing to keep in mind, as a parent, is that a Gap Year is an investment. There is plenty of data suggesting students that take a Gap Year eventually become successful, happy, productive adults. So, like any typical freshmen year for your kid, look at this year as short term (financial) sacrifice for long term gain.
That doesn’t mean you have to foot the entire bill. Gap Years, at their core, are a time for incredible learning. This can extend to the pocketbook. Invite your kid to play an active role in saving money, budgeting, and fiscally planning for their gap year. In fact, you may be doing yourself (and your kid) a disservice by not including them in the process of financing their Gap Year.
Your child can pick from a variety of activities for his or her Gap Year. It’s ultimately up to your kid’s passions and interests that will fully influence their decision. Work, language study, volunteering – all excellent (and oft-chosen) options for students.
Other students may choose to travel fully, to spend their year backpacking and foregoing a specific program. This is a fine option, though there is the added risk of your child not having a reliable safety net, as well as a higher potential for them to not spend their time productively.
Talk to your kid about the bigger picture of their gap year activity decisions and how they can positively (or negatively) affect their next steps in life, be that college, more years of travel, joining the workforce, signing up for the military, etc.
The beauty of a Gap Year is that it can be done anywhere! Talk with your kid about their goals for their Gap Year. Do they want to get to know one region, such as Latin America or the South Pacific, intimately? Would they rather have a taste of a little bit of everything, something like a gap-year-world-tour-sampler-platter?
Encourage your child to be intentional about their Gap Year destination decisions. Avoid using language that lends itself to being too “touristy,” especially if certain destinations or communities are being harmed by increased foot traffic from international visitors. While you can get excited for Angkor Wat, be sure you more strongly emphasize how cool it will be to get to know Cambodians, contribute to a meaningful volunteer project there, or learn Khmer.
Safety is probably your #1 concern as a parent – and for good reason. You don’t need to turn on the evening television to know the underbelly of the world at large. Fortunately for you, this is just one small slice of the real picture; many places on the planet are actually quite safe (and wonderful!) to visit.
That being said, you should talk to your kid about street smarts. Make sure they’re prepped with the necessary information to be responsible in times of trouble (passport copies, emergency numbers, etc.). Talk to them about splitting their money into multiple places on their person. Talk to your kid about crowds, political rallies (and how they should be avoided), and the fact that the US government can do little to help you if/when you are arrested abroad.
Many parents ask their kids to seriously consider signing up for a program rather than traveling independently. This added layer of safety, reliability, and general protection and security helps parents have more sound sleep (and your kid to relax more). Instead of worrying about their own well-being, your kid can just worry about all the awesome learning, instead.
Maybe I’m preaching to the choir, but it’s important that you talk with your child as they are on their Gap Year! You will need to check in to hear how they’re doing, listen to their favorite stories from their adventures, feel closer to your kid while they’re far away. It’s important for both parent AND student to keep the lines of communication open.
However, don’t plan on talking to your kid every. single. day. while they’re traveling. It can be tempting, especially with the proliferation of smartphones and pocket internet, but it can actually detract from your child’s ability to succeed rather than elevate it. It can make your child feel more homesick, less invested in their experiences, and more detached from their life abroad. We know you mean well, but sometimes, saying “No” to the daily text message or Skype call is the way to go.
Make a plan to chat once per week for a good chunk of time (an hour or more); otherwise, minimize communication to the occasional email and intermittent Facebook comment.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Will my kid be “behind?”
Technically, yes. But that doesn’t mean he/she is worse off for it. In fact, as far as maturity and clarity is concerned, your kid will probably be leaps and bounds ahead of their peers. But they might start college a year+ later than your friends’ kids. “Behind” is relative. If you look at it another way, your student will be a whole world ahead of her peers.
2. How can I support my kid on their gap year?
The conversations you have with your child, starting now, should emphasize your kid using their Gap Year to learn as much as possible. Empower your kid to design a gap year that is related to their interests or might introduce them to new ones. Encourage your child to be intentional with their time and prudent with their money. Financial support is important, but not nearly as important as emotional support.
3. “But I’m going to miss them!”
We know it’s hard. No one wants to empty the nest, but it’s important that you separate your personal sadness for the temporary good bye. Don’t let it hinder your child or influence their decision. It’s okay to feel sad (teary airport partings are REAL), but try to keep it together for your kid, too.
4. “Are you SURE I can’t text my kid every day, even just to tell them I love them?”
Don’t do it. This is a time for them to grow, to step into their own, to really embrace the transition from “kid” to (semi-functioning) adult. It’s hard. It’s weird. It feels wrong. But it’s a stage, and you’ll both eventually come out on the other side. The best part? Your kid will come home knowing how to do their own laundry.
Image Credit: João Silas (Stocksnap)
Article contributed by Megan Lee