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Life Skills Your Teen Should Know

Graham Nash advises us to teach our children well, but what, exactly, should we be teaching them? When they’re little, it seems they’ll never learn to tie their own shoes or dress themselves, then, the next thing you know, they’re all grown up and leaving home – ideally with their clothes on and their shoes securely fastened. As they head out for college or their first real job, it would be nice if they packed some basic life skills along with their laptop and collection of concert t-shirts.

Andrea T. is an elementary school art teacher in Tulsa. Her son Jay is well on his way to full-fledged adulthood and, in fact, just recently became a homeowner. While there were certain life skills Andrea and her husband, Gerald, wanted Jay to have before he left for college – money management, how to maintain a vehicle, how to live with others in a dorm or apartment – they didn’t intentionally set out to teach these. Rather, Jay seemed to absorb them along the way.

“He liked to do laundry as a kid,” Andrea recalled, laughing. “We’d hang a lot of things up to dry, and he seemed to think that was entertaining at that age, although I’m not sure he feels the same way now.”

Gerald made sure his son understood the importance of saving money and how to save on basic home and car repairs.

“They would change tires, replace brake pads and install garage openers together,” Andrea recalled.

While all of these practical skills are important, Andrea and Gerald agree that what they really wanted Jay to learn was accountability.

“We had the expectation that Jay would work in the summer during high school and college,” Andrea explained. “He had the understanding that he would help with his college education, paying for his books and extras all four years.”

According to Andrea, the fact that Jay contributed financially to his own education gave him the “buy-in” he needed to stick it out and work through all of the challenges inherent in getting a degree.

“I do think accountability ties in with money management, good character and confidence,” she observed. “A definite life skill.”

Meg C. is finishing up her first year of college in St. Louis. While she doesn’t recall being directly taught any specific skills, she’s grateful to have left home with some basic life lessons.

“My parents have always been very generous to me and my siblings, but I think the fact that they made us work around the house and learn to do things for ourselves has been extremely useful,” Meg noted. “Going away to school, I was shocked to see how much of an advantage I had because I knew how to balance my bank account, do laundry, cook simple things, etcetera. In addition, while my parents did not necessarily teach me how to communicate with professors, they did give me the tools to develop the skills I needed to be professional and courteous when talking to adults.”

While adjusting to college life was a struggle, Meg felt she was prepared.

“I really think every kid should know how to do their laundry, read a bank statement and form a budget, and understand the importance of proper grammar in emails or letters,” Meg concluded. “These things may sound silly or trivial, but they are so important, and make life a lot easier if you know how to do them.”

Before you make assumptions about what your teen does (or does not know) how to do, think through the important details of daily life and come up with your own list. And please share it with us on TulsaKids Facebook page!

Does your teen know:

  • how interest works?
  • how to make out a check and handle a bank account?
  • how to properly address an envelope?
  • what to do in an emergency? (if your child is going off to college, be sure he or she knows who to call in an emergency in the new town)
  • what to do if her car breaks down or if he has a fender-bender?
  • make out a monthly budget?
  • sort laundry?
  • how to appropriately email, text or speak to a college professor?
  • how to make appointments and keep track of them?
  • how to fill out a job application, write a cover letter and write a thank-you note?
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