BY KAREN L. RANCOURT
For grandparents who worry that their college-bound grandchild doesn’t seem emotionally and behaviorally ready for college, they might consider gifting them a “gap year.”
More and more college administrators are advocating a “gap year,” defined by the American Gap Association as: “A structured period of time when students take a break from formal education to increase self-awareness, learn from different cultures, and experiment with possible careers. Typically these are achieved by a combination of traveling, volunteering, interning, or working.” Advocates claim this gap year can help many college-bound young adults be more independent and well-adjusted, attributes that will serve them throughout their lifetime.
It fosters independence
The idea of a gap year has become more popular in the past few years. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is provided by Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford University, and the author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. She posits that because of parents over-directing, overprotecting, or over-involving themselves in their kids’ lives, “I began to worry that college ‘kids’ . . . were somehow not quite formed fully as humans. They seemed to be scanning the sidelines for Mom or Dad. Under-constructed. Existentially impotent.” In other words, many kids starting college are immature and overly dependent upon their parents.
Parents may resist
It must be noted there is resistance to the idea of a gap year, especially from parents. They fear their gap-year child will: be perceived by others as a loafer or a goof off or as having problems; waste time and money; lose their academic knowledge and skills; lose their desire to go to college. However, to this last point, data indicate that 90 percent of students who took a gap year returned to college within a year.
The role you can play
Another important factor impacting a gap year regards how the gap year is financed. Some gap year kids find work and self finance; others are loaned and/or gifted the necessary funds by parents and/or grandparents.
Grandparents can play an important role in helping their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s parents learn more about what a gap year is, explore whether it is a viable option, and help support its implementation in a variety of ways, both emotionally and financially. For many college-bound kids, a gap year can translate to an important and necessary growth year.
As you’re contemplating holiday gift giving, perhaps funding, or partially funding, a “gap year” would make the ideal gift for your grandchild.
Karen L. Rancourt, Ph.D., writes an advice column for parents and grandparents atMommybites.com and is the author of Ask Dr. Gramma Karen, Volume II: Savvy Advice to Help Soothe Parent-Grandparent Conflicts.