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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

The Top 3 Parental Concerns about taking a Gap Year

We asked parents about their biggest concerns with their young person taking a gap year, and across the board their top 3 answers were:

  1. My teen will waste their time.

  2. Various financial concerns.

  3. My teen will face loneliness and isolation.

Want to know who else had the same exact concerns? Gappers!

As parents, it’s important to recognize that things that are concerning you are also concerning your young person. So, in this episode, Michelle, gap year and parenting expert,walks through how to bridge this communication gap and allow parents and gappers to work together to curate a gap year plan that will serve and benefit them.

This episode is packed with tons of valuable planning and financial resources that you can tap into to help support you and your young person through this exhilarating gap year journey!

Step into 2023 equipped with all of the advice and resources you need to help your teen pursue a successful gap year!

And, don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE, you don’t want to miss out on all of the amazing tips and advice brought to you by our gap year experts!

Topics Discussed

  • What are the top 3 concerns for parents and gappers?

  • The value of creating a gap year plan in collaboration with your teen and resources that will support this.

  • The importance of setting expectations before a gap year, and what some expectations may look like.

  • Exploring the fact that Gap Years are an investment in your young person’s life (just like post-secondary education!) along with what are programs that you should invest in.

  • Unpacking the Money Freedom Paradox and the benefits for teens to be working more full-time positions

  • Resources to tap into to prevent your gapper from being isolated during their gap year

  • Exciting program launching for PARENTS that you do not want to miss out on!

Resources Mentioned In This Episode


Michelle Dittmer - 00:00

Step aside gappers,this episode is specifically for parents.

Now parents, if you are not subscribed to this podcast or our YouTube channel, please take the time to do that.

We don't want you to miss out on any of our amazing resources that we are publishing here. We know how valuable they are, you tell us all the time.

So make sure you're subscribed so that we can get those resources to you every single time.

Today we're going to be talking about parental concerns and what you can do as a parent to overcome some of those concerns for your young person on a gap year.

So definitely something not to be missed. Take a listen!

Michelle Dittmer - 01:28

Hey there and welcome to the Gap Year podcast, my name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your host and gap year and parenting expert.

We're tuning in today and we're gonna be talking about some of the common parent concerns that we hear when their young person is committed to taking a gap year and we're really going to build on the last episode, episode 87, that was all about teen brain science and how do we support that evolution and that transition into adulthood for our young person as their brain develops and as they start to explore the world in a in a different way and in a way that's not necessarily the same way that a grown up would.

So if you haven't checked out that episode, go back, check out episode 87. It's the one right before this. We will link to it in the show notes, so it is a must listen for parents.

Michelle Dittmer - 02:24

Now, this episode was actually inspired by a conversation that we had back in October.

In October, we ran a session on “How to Parent a Gapper”, and we asked right up front, right at the very beginning, we asked the parents what their top concerns were, and it was pretty unanimous.

It came down to three things, they were scared that their young person was going to waste their time. They were concerned about the finances, that maybe one of two things, either that the gap year was going to cost a lot of money, or that their kid was gonna work and finally get a sizable paycheck and decide that they didn't need to go back to school they were pretty happy. They were pretty rich getting that $500.00 paycheck. And life is set from here on, we don't need to go out to school after our gap year. So that was the financial concern and then the third one was this idea of isolation or loneliness.

So those were the three things that parents identified.

Michelle Dittmer - 03:30

But what was most interesting to me was that a couple weeks prior to this session, we asked all of our gappers at our free Gap Year Frosh week in September and guess what they said.

They said almost the exact same thing they said, not being motivated or actually doing anything. Stressing over money and finances and seeing their friends leave them behind or feeling lonely.

So again, those same things wasting time, financials and loneliness, the same concerns, just using different language.

Michelle Dittmer - 04:07

So I think it's really, really important to recognize that in a lot of cases what is concerning for the parent is also concerning for the young person and maybe we are either not communicating about it at all or we're not using a language that each other is understanding in a very specific way.

So let's talk about how real these concerns are and what you can do as a parent to support your young person.

So I know you're sitting there saying, OK, great, yeah, I have these fears. I have these concerns, now give me some tangible next steps.

So we'll jump into that and we'll talk about each individually wasting time, finances and that idea of loneliness.

Michelle Dittmer - 04:54

So the first one was wasting time or perhaps maybe not being motivated. How do we prevent this from happening? Now, my recommendation is that you work as a family to put together a plan for the year.

But even before you get to that planning stage, I want you to talk about what your expectations are and listen to what your young person's expectations are.

We have some really great resources to help you in both of those areas. So we have a document that's called “Crucial Conversations” and it's a download, we'll link to it in the show notes.

And there are some difficult conversations that you should have with your young person before the gap year even begins.

So we're talking about things like budget, what is reasonable, what are you prepared to contribute? Do they have to pay for it on their own? Is there an expectation that they need to earn money for postsecondary, so all things money.

Talking about expectations after the gap year, it's expected that next September you are going to school. It's expected that you have a full time job once you're done. Whatever those expectations are post gap year, it's great to put them on the table and to be very clear about what they are.

Another example might be what activities are allowed or not allowed on the gap year and having conversations ahead of time can make life so, so much better for both of you, for you as a parent and for your young person because in conversations with young people on their gap year, they have so many assumptions about what their parents expectations are without having this conversation and quite often the young person has a much tighter, much more conservative version of what the parents actual expectations are.

So they're missing out on lots of opportunities because they assume your expectations are going to be tighter than what they actually are.

So have those conversations, download that sheet and have those conversations.

Michelle Dittmer - 07:06

The second resource I'm going to point you to is our 4-Step Gap Year planner. This is a great resource to do as a family and we really encourage you to work through the process of setting goals and researching opportunities, budgeting and building a calendar and figuring out how you're going to stay accountable to this system.

It really is something that is going to help you if you do it as a family because then everybody is going to be on the same page or have your young person do it and present it back to you.

That can be a really, really empowering way to do it if you have a more independent initiative taking young people, that can be really great.

We know that you haven't planned a gap year before and we know that our team can't support one-on-one with each and everyone of you, so what we did was we took all of that knowledge and we put it into this planner. So for $29.00 it allows us to guide you step by step through the process and will even review your plan in person through zoom to make sure that we can give you some feedback on that plan from our perspective.

So it really is a steal of a deal and we want to make sure that you can have access to those planning tools.

Michelle Dittmer - 08:26

Now having talked about expectations from both your perspective as the parent and your kids perspective will help make sure that you are on the same page about what should and should not be part of this gap year experience and it will provide a little bit of guidance and structure for the year.

Now I want to share a really powerful analogy with you. So a young person's life, especially on a gap year, is a lot like a body of water, like a lake. A lake is full of water, full of potential.

Water can create energy, we need water to live. It has so many things that can happen with that lake. It is very, very full of potential, but there's not a lot of movement and in order to take that lake into a place of flow, into a place of movement, it needs some boundaries and that's when we start to get a river and we start to get that water flowing in a direction.

And that's really our role as parents and guides and coaches and how we designed the gap year accelerator and the gap year game plan that we have is providing those boundaries that are not stifling, that are not controlling, but are going to allow for that young person to feel forward momentum on their gap year.

So we really need those boundaries to achieve that flow and going through this expectation conversation and building a tentative gap year plan really puts everyone at ease and feeling comfortable that there is going to be movement on this gap here.

Michelle Dittmer - 10:12

So we got to jump into point #2 here, we're going to talk about the financial components, so first of all, you may have heard me say it before, but your gap year doesn't have to cost tons and tons of money.

There are activities for every single budget, you have to be creative and you have to tap into the resources that are out there.

But I can tell you I have seen gap years that have earned $60,000 and I have seen gap years that have cost $60,000 and everything in between.

So no matter where your budget is, there is something out there for you and it does not necessarily mean that a program that costs more is going to be of a higher quality or going to help you achieve your goals better.

There is just a difference in the way that you structure your year that is going to help you reach your goals and fit your budget.

Michelle Dittmer - 11:10

So I'm going to jump on my soapbox for a moment here and hear me out, this is really, really important.

While your gap year doesn't have to cost you lots of money, I do recommend spending some money on it and on the gapper themselves, and it's not just spending, but I want you to look at it as an investment.

The gap year is supposed to be a time of personal exploration and growth. So the same way as a parent you invest in perhaps drivers Ed or piano lessons or athletic fees at school in order for us to grow and get better and develop, we do that best with the support of organisations or professionals in all of those areas.

So I don't want you or your young person to feel you need to save every penny and reject the idea of paying for entrance or enrollment fees or experiences or programs that are going to support the growth of your gapper.

It really is an investment, it is an educational, personal development investment in their future.

The same way that we invest in their education without too much thought because we know it is going to level them up. A lot of gap year experiences are going to provide that same level of levelling up and setting them apart from their peers, building their confidence, addressing their mental health.

All of those components we can really support as parents if we invest a little bit into our young person.

Michelle Dittmer - 12:51

OK, off my soapbox. Now I'm gonna jump into this earning money freedom paradox.

So this is a fear from parents is that their kid is going to get a taste of earning money and then never wanna go back to school.

Now let me say that perhaps, maybe for the first time ever, your young person might be working more than part time hours and getting more money than they had ever earned before this is true. And I can almost guarantee that they'll probably blow their first paycheck on something like a new pair of shoes or a phone. Some things that we as parents might judge a little bit.

But I would say that more than 90% of gappers do realize that working those minimum wage jobs isn't going to afford them the life they want to live in the long run, and they really gain an understanding of the value of money in a new way.

So that pair of shoes is now 15 hours of work, or that cell phone bill is now 5 hours of work a month. That specialty coffee that they always want on the way to work eats up half an hour of their pay.

So these things aren't always real for them when they're spending other people's money. But as soon as it's their hard earned money, it becomes real and they think about it in a different way.

I will say that most gappers will come to the realization that they want and they need additional training or education so that they can move into different roles with higher salaries and they'll actually be motivated to find that pathway so that they can reach those goals that they set for themselves, for the life they want to lead.

Michelle Dittmer - 14:42

Another thing that I find extremely fascinating is that I go to all these conferences about the future of work and higher education, and the number one stressor that young people are feeling right now is finances.

Now this is a shocker to me because it's very different from my lived experience from when I was entering university and now I have to check myself. I did come from a middle class family, so it wasn't a universal experience amongst all of my friends, but financial finances were important but there was also this hopefulness or this promise of a job after graduation.

But now young people are being bombarded with messages of a looming recession or economic slowdown. These messages have never owning their own home or having to navigate the gig economy and rising or rising unemployment rates and they really are feeling the pressure in a way that wasn't a reality for their parents generation.

So no wonder they're stressed about finances and in conversation with them, it's also really interesting because they're wanting to become financially independent from their parents.

They're not wanting to depend solely on their parents' income. So they're feeling this extra pressure to take the financial pressure off their parents and take that burden off of you.

As providers and step into that independence that adulthood brings, but they also know that they're just not able to pay all those bills. So they feel really pulled in a lot of directions.

Michelle Dittmer - 16:25

So how can you help them with this? I want you to try to take the time to look at numbers with them. So in the way that perhaps you and your partner or you and your financial advisor sit down and look at what you have saved. What is the gap between what it's going to cost for maybe higher education or maybe in a micro scale their gap year.

Talk about what they need to contribute and how much things will actually cost for school or for their gap year.

Including them in these conversations will help them feel more empowered and more comfortable with the steps that still need to be taken for them to achieve their goals. So we're not protecting them as parents by excluding them from these conversations, we're actually raising their stress level.

So when this can become familiar, when this can be a normalized conversation, no matter what those numbers are at least they have a direction that they're heading in so they know what's lying before them, cause nothing stresses humans out more than the unknown.

So giving them that insight, having those conversations, problem solving together while they can't become financially independent from you, that is a step on the road to their evolution into becoming responsible adults is simply being included in those conversations and helping them realize the value of money and what that's going to look like in the short to medium term for their future.

Michelle Dittmer - 18:02

We have tons of great financial literacy resources as part of the Gap Year Accelerator program that really helped to build those financial skills and more so the comfort level with how much life actually costs and this is really huge learning for them when all of a sudden they have to start adding zeros and sometimes multiple zeros, 2 things that they were previously responsible for paying for so perhaps that $100 pair of jeans, which was really expensive in their mind.

All of a sudden they now have bills that are $15,000 for tuition and this is a really big and scary mental jump for them.

So helping them throughout their gap year to develop that financial literacy, that comfort level with money and understanding how much it takes for life to happen is a real big independence builder and often very eye opening for our young people.

Michelle Dittmer - 18:06

So let's jump into the third one so you still have time for the rest of your day. The last one is this idea of isolation.

Now, especially if you saw your child go through a very difficult isolation associated with the pandemic, this one's gonna be at the forefront of a lot of your minds.

We never want to see our kids go through that again. That was really, really traumatic for them and for us as parents, quite frankly, and as we talked about an episode, 87 young adults are wired to be connected to their peers and find that sense of belonging.

So sometimes being the odd one out and taking a gap year while seeing their friends heading off and I'm going to use air quotes here, moving forward in their lives can feel to them like they are being left behind.

You and I know as parents that it is much more challenging to make friends when you are not in school. So when you're in school, you have this environment where there are literally hundreds of potential friends that are all about the same age, have relatively similar life experiences and at the very least you have the fact that you go to the same school in common with each and every single person.

But as a grown up and outside of those formal systems, it's much more challenging to make friends.

So we as parents need to help figure out how we break down that isolation and how we do that is by focusing on making sure that the gap year plan has built in socially productive activities.

So things like joining clubs or finding a job with similar age folks, maybe joining a sports league or heading to Ireland with a travel group that has young people that has a focus on young people or joining the Gap Year accelerator program, or coming out to our gap year Frosh week and building that community because we have two modes here and we need to make sure that we have a balance between those virtual communities that we can access 24/7 almost.

But also we are human and we want to make sure we have those face to face connections too. We weren't designed as human beings to connect entirely virtually. So looking that plan and making sure that it is a priority when making decisions that those socially productive activities and community building is built into the gap year plan.

Michelle Dittmer - 21:34

So those are the three things that are top of mind for parents this year and are pretty consistent year over year so hopefully that was helpful for you to acknowledge if you're having some of those similar concerns, but also giving you some solutions and some resources to be able to help navigate those concerns so that they become second nature and something that you and your young person feel that you can overcome, or at least mitigate to the best of your ability.

Michelle Dittmer - 22:07

Now, over this last year, I can tell you about CanGap it's becoming increasingly clear that parents need just as much support as the gappers themselves.

So we're working on something magical that we are going to be releasing for the 2023-2024 GAPPER cohort, where parents can join a community of other parents with kids on gap years and receive group coaching that will help you to, as a parent, navigate the ups and downs and all the rounds that come with parenting somebody on their gap year and working with young people in that transition out of adolescence and into early adulthood, which can be a challenging space and well, there's lots of resources for people with young kids.

When it comes to those bigger kids, bigger kids, bigger problems, we don't necessarily have that same community of support, but the gap year community brings that together.

And it's a really beautiful thing to see parents connect with each other.

So like I said, that's coming up for next year 2023-2024 so make sure you are on our mailing list, is where you can do that and make sure you indicate that you are a parent so you will get notified when that program is up and running.

Also, don't forget to subscribe to this podcast, we've got tons of great episodes coming up in 2023. So subscribe to the podcast wherever you listen or on our YouTube channel.

We would love to have you not miss out on these amazing resources that we are compiling for you.

We're wishing you the absolute best end to 2022 or wherever you happen to listen to this podcast and I can't wait to support you and your young person on their gap year journey.

So until next time my friends, keep on adventuring.

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