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How to bridge the gap: Setting healthy boundaries during your child’s gap year

So, your teen has decided to take a gap year – there are surely exciting times ahead! Whatever they plan to do in their time off, it’s important that you both establish good habits early, especially when it comes to communicating with one another and in defining their obligations as they begin to navigate the world as an independent adult.

Staying at home is entirely different to moving away or overseas, but both options carry responsibility. Whatever your child chooses to do, it’s crucial that they know the expectations and boundaries that come with taking a gap year.

Here’s what to discuss with your child to ‘bridge the gap’ ahead of their impending year of independence.

Financial responsibilities

Whether they’re staying at home or moving away, financial responsibility will be a huge thing to consider ahead of a gap year. After all, this marks the beginning of their adulthood – they’re officially done with school and will soon be turning 18 if they haven’t already. If they don’t yet have a job, chances are they’ll be looking for work or even a volunteering or internship position.

If they’re staying at home, you might like to establish their financial contributions to the household. Can they help out by paying rent or board? If you don’t consider this integral to them staying at home, maybe they can take on some of their own expenses like their phone bill, groceries, or internet bill. Alternatively, there might be other ways to contribute that aren’t monetary.

Planning their spending

For those parents whose children are looking to move interstate or overseas, there’s far more to consider, so making a financial plan with them ahead of this significant year in their life is a great start to helping them prepare for this change in lifestyle. Have they saved money ahead of their gap year, or will you be contributing to their travel and living costs? If it’s the latter, is this contribution a loan to pay back by a certain date or a once-off gift with no strings attached? Perhaps they’ll consider a few months at home to work before they head off on their adventure – this will add bulk to their savings and reduce the chance of them running into financial trouble while away from home.

While your child might already be responsible, it’s likely they haven’t had to manage their money on such a large scale before. Accidents happen, so knowing you’ve got the capital to cover unforeseen expenses (should something go really wrong) will ensure you can react with a compassionate and prepared approach while your child learns to navigate challenges independently.

Household contributions

If your child is staying at home and working, there’s a good chance they’ll have more time to dedicate to helping you and other household members with chores like cooking, cleaning and general errands. If you’re keen for them to contribute more, it’s important to lay down your expectations early, and communicate any boundaries or non-negotiables you might have tied to this choice. Are they expected to do certain chores, or just pitch in when given the opportunity? Should you have to ask, or are you handing over autonomy? Do they have to deliver by a certain date or is it all about maintaining their spaces and responsibilities day to day?

Depending on your child’s personality, the right way to approach chores could be a roster system. This establishes something tangible the whole family can refer to, ensuring that everyone – not just your new high school graduate – is putting in the work when they should be.

Communication and family time

One of the hardest things to accept as your child gets older is the ‘hands-off’ mentality – understanding that they have their own life, and may not be as interested in spending time with you or the rest of the family. That’s why it’s crucial to establish a compassionate yet clear approach to communication that’ll keep all parties happy. You’ll get to stay in the loop with your teen, and they’ll feel like they’re staying connected without being under the thumb.

Ultimately, you’ve got to decide what works for your family best, and perhaps that’ll make itself clear in the first few weeks of your child’s gap year. If they’re moving away, it’s likely they’ll be keener on communicating with you – via call, email, video chat and text – as they work through homesickness and adjust to their new surroundings. If they’re staying at home, you might want to establish a regular family movie night, a weekly check-in time that all family members can be home for, or an activity that you do together regularly. 

While you might want to keep tabs on your child, it’s absolutely key that you give them some space, and work together to set those healthy boundaries. The frequency of your time spent together may fluctuate, but they’ll have more of a sense of independence if they feel like they get to choose when to spend time with you – and it’s more likely that they’ll look forward to and thoroughly enjoy this time if they have a say.  

Of course, you and your child will both know what works best for you. Gap years are an undeniably scary concept for a lot of parents, but with established boundaries and expectations, and respect shared between everyone involved, you’ve got the makings of an even stronger relationship and a transformative life experience for your teen.

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