The internet has exploded with a variety of reactions to the news that Malia Obama will take a year off before enrolling at Harvard in 2017. She's not the only one, either - over the last ten years, Harvard has seen a 33 percent increase in the number of students who take a gap year.
Here are 3 reasons you should seriously consider supporting your son or daughter when it comes to making the same decision:
1. They'll do better in college and in their careers
For those concerned that a gap year will in some way damage someone's academic record, don't be. Gap year students are actually more likely to finish college in four years than those who go to college right after high school.
Gap year students are also better equipped for success after college. Students who take a gap year are seen as "more mature, more self-reliant and independent" than peers who don't - all qualities employers find appealing in job candidates.
65 percent of HR executives said volunteering abroad made a job application stand out, and the Institute of Engineering and Technology says, "a gap year can make you more employable in many ways, providing you a wider skill set than many of your peers - a useful selling point in today's competitive job market."
2. They'll be better global citizens
Something magical happens when you travel as a young adult. You use your language skills to connect and communicate, not to pass a test.
You make new international friends on trains and buses. Your beliefs are challenged in hostel courtyards. You learn about culture by being in it, not reading about it in a book.
We live in an increasingly interconnected world. It's especially important for those from privileged nations like the U.S. to grasp the challenges and realities faced by those in other parts of the world, yet it's dangerously easy to remain in an all-American bubble.
Becoming a contributing member of the global community is easier if you've seen the globe.
3. They'll practice real-world decision-making
When I was 18, I went on a two-month backpacking trip with two friends. The very first thing we did? Create a detailed budget.
Other skills we honed: navigating foreign cities and subway systems, getting directions even when we didn't speak the language (or have internet), and sticking together even when we didn't get along.
Perhaps most importantly, we learned to think on our feet and solve problems creatively, such as what to do when we missed the last ferry back to the mainland.
According to the Journal of Educational Psychology, gap year students showed increased "adaptive behavior" in college, including planning, task management, and persistence. Why? Because they had to actually plan, execute tasks, and persist. These are things that last beyond college, and are arguably more important than any coursework every could be.
Here's an uncomfortable truth: In a way, going from one structured school environment to the next robs kids of the chance to exercise their own self-determination right when they need it most.
There's a big difference between studying Spanish to get an A on a test, and figuring out how to ask a fisherman for a ride back to town because it's getting dark out. One tests your knowledge; the other tests your character.
The point is this: When you travel and live on your own, you develop as a human being. You're exposed to people, places, and viewpoints that force you to reconsider things you thought were givens.
You become self-reliant and empathetic, and your thinking becomes more flexible. You start to grasp that your time is your own and your decisions matter, both to yourself and to others.
In other words, you grow up.
Learning happens in more than just the classroom, and growing up is about more than just getting older.
Consider giving your kids the chance to discover that for themselves, and watch them develop into young adults you'll be proud of.