The fact that you’re supportive of your child’s desire to take a Gap Year and travel abroad, even though it’s something you never did, is commendable. The best parents are those who raise their kids to be their own people and support their dreams, even when they’re very different from our own and take them farther away than we’d like. There is bravery in that.
Being supportive, in the theoretical sense, is one thing, but it’s often hard to know how, exactly to help your child, in practical ways, to plan and execute this journey. What does help look like? And how do we walk the line between “helping” and “interfering?” When is struggle good for you child, preparing them for their adventure, and when should we swoop in and save the day?
Great questions! Here are a few ideas for helping you to help your child in a way that empowers without taking responsibility for things that your young person needs to struggle through to learn.
Ask, “How can I help?”
Sometimes just vocalizing your willingness to help your child is enough. If your child is truly ready to tackle a journey of this magnitude then he is likely ready to meet the challenges and difficulties in the planning process. He may want to work through those on his own and feel self sufficient in the adventure. Support him in that by giving him space and letting him know you’re there if he needs anything.
On the other hand, your student may really want to have help in the planning process and asking, instead of assuming, is a way to respect her budding independence and the fact that this is her trip and her process.
If you’re not sure what to do, ask.
Consider What You Can Contribute
Most students are going to want control over planning their itinerary, travel planning is fun! Much of what they will learn in this journey will happen before they ever leave home. Encourage that. However, the reality is that your student doesn’t have the resources you do. Think about the concerns you have and what you can do to make sure you sleep better at night and your traveler has the best experience possible. Some ways you might contribute include:
- Buying the big ticket items your child needs
- Providing the air travel
- Covering travel and health insurance
- Donating a Eurorail pass
- Creating a reserve account for “emergencies” that your child doesn’t know about yet
Whatever you come up with as a way to contribute, be sure to talk it through with your child first and make sure your thoughts are in line with her plans.
Become a Research Assistant
If you know your child is considering airfare possibilities and packages, do a little research of your own and share links. Spend some time looking into travel hacking and share the most exciting possibilities for budget reduction with your kid. Pay attention to the conversation your student is having about her trip and look for information that relates to what she’s thinking about. Ask your kid what you can research for them. Can you compare insurance plans? Explore visa requirements for Vietnam and Australia? Search for WWOOFING opportunities in Morocco?
Connect Your Child With a Travel Mentor
A couple of years ago I got an email from an acquaintance that went something like this: “My daughter, Shelby is 17. She leaves in a month for China and she’s in her room crying right now. She’s totally overwhelmed. There are problems with her visa processing. She’s freaking out about packing, and language, and culture shock and the logistics of the 30+ hour flight. I have never traveled and I have no idea how to help her. Would you be willing to talk her down from the cliff, since this is your life?”
In the coming weeks, Miss Shelby and I became quite good friends. I assured her that the rodeo of the final month before launch is totally normal and not a sign that she’d done anything wrong in her planning. There are always stressors and things that don’t go to plan. Her mother was very grateful.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do to help your child is to point her to someone who has “been there, done that” and who is willing to mentor her as she executes her plan. Maybe there’s someone in your circle who can do that. Maybe not.
Verbalize Your Support to the World
Perhaps one of the biggest boosts you can give your young person is your public stamp of approval and confidence in his ability. Make a point of making your pride in his accomplishments and your belief in his capability to plan and execute this adventure well known to friends and family. Let him overhear you bragging a bit. Post your pleasure in his progress on social media where he can see it. Come out on his side, even if, behind closed doors, you’re asking hard questions and holding his feet to the fire on a few things.
I know what it’s like to watch a teenager struggle and fuss and weep her way through the planning process. I have been tempted to swoop in with the answer when budgets need to be revamped and the items laid out to pack just aren’t fitting into the bag. My encouragement to you, as the parent, is to step back a bit. Let your student fight it through and emerge victorious. Verbalize your support, be willing to step in if they ask but allow the challenges along the way to be part of the learning process. After all, you won’t be there to point the way when they are on the road.
This piece is part of the fantastic and FREE GapYear30 Parents resource, provided by BootsnAll. There is a GapYear30 Student version too. These thirty day bootcamps are designed to help you and your child plan their Gap Year effectively.