The last few years have been a bit of a roller coaster ride for my son Nick. He’s been busy with school obligations, starting rock bands with his friends, and trying to pass a full schedule of Honors and AP coursework. Nick seems happy. He works as a lifeguard and plays in his school’s marching band. But for some reason, he refuses to do much homework and his grades have dropped.
Nick’s grades started to slide two years ago, and have not really recovered. Now in his pivotal junior year, his father and I recognize that our mutual pressuring and demands to “Finish your homework!” continue to not have much effect. Nick consistently loses Facebook, video game and party privileges, but this punishment does not seem to have much effect on the outcome. The next thing to go is his participation in the marching band, but we hate to withdraw that disciplined commitment.
His father and I are mystified. We were both 'good students' in high school and turned into college educators. We just don’t understand our son's educational burnout. Isn't the drop-out child of college professors just a bad stereotype? Recently, two close adult friends of mine (one a college professor) admitted that they had dropped out of high school in the tenth grade and completed their GED in other ways. They just couldn’t stand the poor quality of the education they were receiving and decided to finish in their own way.
I have wondered if my son is just bored silly and is self-destructing academically as a payback for the over-enrolled public education he’s receiving.
Maybe he’s overextended and just can’t handle it? Maybe he has some concentration issues? We’ve pursued all of these issues in various ways already.
But now I’m starting to see the writing on the wall — heading to college immediately after high school may not be the best option for Nick.
Nick has fantasized out loud about living in New Orleans and playing music for a year or perhaps training to be a white water rafting guide in Colorado. I took these suggestions as a sign that it was time for us to think about a “gap year” — a year off after high school and before college to travel, work, complete community service in Nicaragua, or any number of other options.
Nick’s gap year will not be an all expense-paid trip abroad. He will have to work for his room and board, or save enough money to pay for his expenses. My initial searching turned up a variety of interim year programs — many that ask for several thousand dollars for identifying contacts, but some programs that look quite promising and affordable. The Student Conservation Association , Americorps  or a program called “City Year”  all sound like interesting and affordable possibilities for environmental, cultural and civic forms of engagement before college. I found these options listed at an Education.com link to “Mind the Gap .”
Any other advice on gap years (or parenting teenagers) is appreciated…