4 Ways to Guide Your Child Through a Gap Year Decision

By Susan E. Greenwood

When our boys first approached us about taking a gap year, we were open to it, but we wanted to make sure they were doing it for the right reasons.

Our oldest son wanted to do a wilderness discipleship semester straight out of high school. There were no worries regarding him delaying college. We knew he was set on his major and which school he was attending. When we asked him why, he said he wanted to be involved in a program that would help him mature in his faith and break out of his comfort zone. It’s hard to argue with those reasons.

Our only concern for him was that pretty much everything about this program was out of the norm for him. But, we knew he could do it, we knew it would be good for him, and we trusted the leadership that would be over him. This turned out to be the best thing for him. It changed our quiet, mild-mannered, PB & J eating boy into an adventurous, slightly daring, broccoli eating young man. He was more confident and outgoing and grounded in his faith. When his faith was challenged living on his own 500 miles away from home during college, he was able to walk through the challenge biblically and refute the faulty logic. Taking a gap year was the best thing for him. It’s been four years since that semester, and he still refers to the value of that time in his life.

Every gap year decision is different.

Our middle son contemplated a gap year on the heels of spending the summer at Snowbird on Servant Team. He was registered for his first semester of classes at our local university and committed to play drums for a college ministry, but when some of his buddies got accepted to the internship program, he considered applying too. For him, at this time, we knew that he was more motivated by staying with his friends than feeling called to the internship program. But, we committed to pray with him and for him and asked him to consider these questions:

  • Why do you feel like God is calling you to this program?
  • How does it fit with what you feel like He wants you to do?
  • What aspect of the program appeals to you the most?
  • Do you want to stay for the program itself and what it has to offer or to be with your friends?
  • If your friends weren’t staying, would you still be interested?

After a few more weeks of praying and considering, he realized that his desire was mostly because of his friends staying, and he moved forward with his first year of college.

Evaluating the SWO Institute.

The next summer, he worked as a counselor on Summer Staff. He had not planned to apply, but after the first month on campus, he began to feel like the SWO Institute program might be a good fit. There was a maturity in the decision process that wasn’t there the previous year. He was looking at both sides of the decision, and the people staying were not a driving factor.

His motivation was to be discipled more intently and to explore ministry as a full-time vocation. His reasoning was sound, and we felt like it could be a great opportunity for him, and, so far, it has been.

Not all situations are clean and easy. We are really blessed to know and trust the place our boys were praying to attend and the leadership they would be under.

Your situation may be different. The gap year your child wants to take may come with more anxiety and uncertainty. Here are a few ways you can help your child as they consider a gap year decision.

1. Be open and receptive as they talk through the decision

Give them the space to talk it out. Pose positive questions that will allow them to think through both sides of the decision with an open mind instead of becoming defensive.

2. Commit to praying for them and with them.

After they’ve had a chance to present their ideas, pray with them right then. Ask them how you can pray for them. What are their main concerns? This opens the door for you to know how they are considering the negative aspects, to know what their worries are, and see how you need to focus your support for them.

3. Do your own research.

Having your own knowledge base can put your mind at ease and help you feel comfortable about where they plan to spend their time and with whom. It will help you be more productive in conversations so you can focus on deeper questions. It will also demonstrate to your child that you have a true interest in where they want to go.

4. Don’t be afraid to be the parent.

Parenting young “adult” children takes a delicate balance. On one hand, they are legally adults at 18. On the other hand, most 18-24 year olds are still pretty dependent on you for support financially and otherwise. As you give them the space to make an adult decision, don’t feel like you can’t interveign if their decision isn’t going to be wise in the long run.

Helping our sons navigate this decision was a rewarding process for us as parents. We enjoyed posing questions and praying for them as they learned to walk through making mature spiritual decisions.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” – James 3:13-18


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Susan E. Greenwood is an author, blogger, skit, and curriculum writer. She enjoys leading Bible studies, meeting with her girls for discipleship, and teaching at one of the local Middle Schools. Susan and her husband, Chris, have been married since 1994. They have three sons: Austin, Donevan, and Kyle.

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