PARENTPERSPECTIVES Give your Teen a Break? Yeah, maybe... I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life at the age of 17 or again at 24 when I began graduate studies. I can’t help looking back at those years and wondering if it was money well spent. I’ve formulated a plan that will allow my kids to take a year after high school to mature and — I hope — to discover what makes them tick. If they are actively volunteering or interning at least 40 hours a week in one or more fields of interest, they may continue to live rent-free under our roof. When I mention this plan to friends, the response is often, “You know most kids who take a break don’t go back.” Truth or urban legend? I decided to do an Internet search, and my findings revealed quite the opposite. “Princeton encourages it. Harvard’s a big fan. From Tufts to MIT, some of the most prestigious universities in the nation are urging students to consider something that would make most parents cringe: The idea of putting off college for a year in favor of some much-needed downtime,” wrote Danielle Wood in an article devoted to the “gap year” and its potential benefits and downfalls (education.com/magazine/article/ Should_Gap_Year/). The key is to be sure that the process isn’t one of unstructured floundering but a well-laid plan that will assist your child in her quest.
I verified Danielle’s reference to Harvard’s stance on the gap year on the Harvard website. I indeed found that they encourage applicants who have been accepted to take a year of self-discovery before beginning their studies. Whatever your decision as a parent, knowing that a gap year in your child’s education will not equal failure may allow you to weigh more options than you were previously considering. Giving them a break may be the answer. — Barb Hartman
Stay Calm and Carry On My two daughters are in college, so I have experienced the dreaded “first semester.” While they were in high school, I heard stories about kids quitting college, transferring, or hooking up with the wrong crowd. Was I nervous? You bet! My “babies” had flown the nest. When they called to say they were unhappy, lonely, or wanted to come home, my heart broke for them. I wanted to fix things, but I knew this was their opportunity to figure it out for themselves. My best advice is to take it one day at a time, be a good listener, and keep your fingers crossed so very tightly as you board the wild ride of what can be the longest four months of your life. Beware of the stories you hear from other parents because you are dealing with YOUR kid, not theirs. Each child has her own life to live, even if that means stumbling, getting up, and starting over. Our expectations of what our kids “should do” can disappoint, but if we let go a little, an independent and happy young adult will emerge. — Mary Ellen Bianco
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