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‘Gap year’: just uttering the phrase is enough to make some parents and caregivers of school leavers across the nation tremble! If you’re finding yourself anxious about the concept of a gap year for your teen, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, most parents experience some level of worry or nervousness, with good reason. This huge transitional time for your child marks their newfound, post-school independence and potentially, changes in your relationship or family dynamic.

If your child is considering a gap year or semester, don’t panic. There’s so much to be gained from this experience, and in the long run, it could even put your child head and shoulders above the rest despite a deferral of their tertiary studies.

Let’s talk about why you shouldn’t worry if your child wants to take a gap year…

It’s not a waste of time

The most common misconception about a gap year is that it’s a waste of time for your child, especially if they have lofty goals for university and beyond. Don’t think of this break as a loss of momentum, but rather, some much-needed mental respite that will allow your child to reset, pursue their passions, and grow exponentially. If they’re part of the ‘Class of COVID’, it’s likely that the chance to take a breath and figure out their place in the world will be very welcomed following on from a tumultuous time.

No two gap years are the same

There’s a traditional idea of what a gap year should look like that generally involves work and travel overseas, but this is far from the only option. Some teens choose to stay at home and work, others travel interstate to pursue a fixed-term job and do some local travel. They may like to fill their time with an internship in their chosen field, or perhaps they want to give back to the community with regular volunteering. Whatever their decision, one thing is for sure – their gap year is bound to look completely different to the next person’s experiences, and can be tailored more specifically to their individual goals, values and limitations.

They’ll learn to be more independent

One skill that’s impossible to hone without letting your child leave the nest is their independence. A gap year is an unparalleled opportunity for them to spread their wings, learn how to take care of themselves and discover who they are outside of high school and the safety net of friends and teachers who know them. Of course, the specificities of their gap year or semester will determine how much independence they foster – a teen who travels overseas to work or volunteer will have a different experience than one who stays at home close to their familiar environment. Either way, it’s a great lesson in navigating the world as an adult that they’re better off learning as soon as they can.

They’ll gain transferrable skills

Whatever their gap year looks like, your teen is bound to emerge with skills that will see them through many years, if not the entirety of their life. Employers are shifting focus onto ‘soft skills’ and while it’s still requisite to know your stuff, these soft skills are increasingly taking precedence over study-specific knowledge. So, think of a gap year as an opportunity for your child to get a few life smarts under their belt, including time management, organisation, communication, empathy, teamwork, decision-making, problem-solving skills, and even budgeting. Whether they’re volunteering in a local community, undertaking an internship or travelling to another country to do typical ‘gappy’ work in a bar, school or hotel, acquiring these new skills is almost inevitable, as is learning to interact with a whole host of people from a melting pot of languages and cultures.

It’s an opportunity for self-discovery

As fun as school can be, it’s not exactly a flexible environment – so it’s likely your child hasn’t had tonnes of time to explore what they’re passionate about and find themselves along the way. Whatever their interests, a gap year can provide them with a chance to dig deep into the things that interest and excite them, and to learn who they are outside of the structured school setting. It’s a time for new experiences, unfamiliar scenarios, and change, all of which are bound to benefit your child in the long run as they support their character building.

They’ll emerge ready for uni

Last, but certainly not least, think of a gap year as a preparatory step on the way to university. While you might be fearful that your teen will ditch uni altogether if they don’t jump straight into it, this is rarely the case. A gap year or semester not only takes the pressure off momentarily, but it’ll give them the time and space to get excited about further education. Many students have been looking forward to their university journey for years, and this joyful anticipation doesn’t just go away – a gap year or semester allows them to rest their minds and enjoy life a little before diving head-first into more study.

High school is an action-packed time for many students, so there’s no shame in wanting to slow things down or try something new in a gap year. Whether your teen wants to travel, work hard or just rest, this time could teach them valuable skills and lessons they’ll carry throughout their university studies and career. Although it’s only natural to feel apprehensive, with the right tools and support, a gap year or semester could be the experience of your child’s lifetime.