Your child has announced that she wants a gap year. For many parents this is a mixed blessing. Remember that free spirited, adventurous, independent child you wanted to raise? Congratulations – you’ve done it.
Worried that she will end up in a foreign country with no money/as a drug mule/sold into slavery? OK, that’s normal. But not rational. Remember that free spirited, adventurous child? The bittersweet truth is that she’s now an independent young adult, who can – and will – make her own (sensible) decisions.
As a parent, one solution can be to guide your child towards a counsellor who will help your family plan a gap year. It means your child still gets all the incredible benefits of a gap year – but you have the reassurance of knowing that they are being supported.
You will probably be happier if you know your child is planning a safe, secure set of experiences, with access to the best advice on travel insurance, money matters and what’s available!
You can also aim to be the best kind of gap year parent. If your child thinks you’re working with him, he is far more likely to listen to your advice and opinion. If he knows you’re supportive, he is far more likely to turn to you if he ever does need help.
After years of working with gap year students and their families, here are our top tips on how to be a perfect parent and a gap year guru:
Remember it’s their gap year, not yours.
You may think a gap year should involve helping orphans in Africa; they may have different ideas. It’s OK to discuss; it’s not OK to direct. As independent advisers we often find a happy balance between the ideas of the parents and the young person. Teenagers can be far more willing to accept advice from a counsellor than from their own parents!
Be totally upfront about what you’re prepared to do money-wise. If your child is staying with you, do you expect rent? Are you going to gift them some money to help them fulfil their dreams? Think very carefully before saying you’ll pay for things you approve of (like volunteering); but not for travel. The independent thinker you’ve raised will see that as bribery – and will be less likely to ask for help if they really do need it.
Be clear about communication.
It’s OK to expect regular check-ins, and to arrange how often you want to be contacted. Be clear about what you both mean by a check-in. You may be hoping for an 800 word email detailing their new-found passion for Aztec art. Your child may think they’ve done what’s needed with a text that reads “At hostel’. Tired. X”. If a photo on Facebook of your child drinking tequila on the beach at 4am isn’t your idea of a check-in, it’s probably best to be clear about that too.
Focus on the positives.
University lecturers often comment that gap year students are more mature, committed and organised than other students. Employers say gap year students can have the edge in interviews because of the life experience they can talk about. Students who have had a break from studying come back refreshed, and are far clearer about what they want to do in the future.
If you’re still in doubt, then why not give us a call. We know hundreds of stories about positive gap years; but we’ve never met anyone who regrets the experience.