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21 Life Skills Teenagers Should Know Before Leaving Home

With one (man)child leaving home for college (again – and it’ll hopefully stick this time!), one daughter firmly in her teens and another daughter right there at teenhood, I’ve started to become very vocal about their entry into young adulthood. There are some life skills that I think EVERY child should know before they head into their lives. I thought I’d put together a list of 21 things to know before turning 21.

1) How to balance a checkbook and manage money

Finances are one of those things that will make or break you. It affects, not only your life, but the lives of those you spend your life with. Financial issues are one of the top causes of divorce and I find it ridiculous that it isn’t a skill taught all through school. Teens must know how to have a bank account, how to create and live on a budget and how to balance the account. I’d offer the same advice for credit cards. It’s so easy to get a credit card these days and then the next thing you know, you don’t have any money because it’s all spent on finance charges. When they begin working, I will also give them a bill to pay so they know when and how to pay bills and maintain a balance in their accounts. If I can teach my kids some solid financial advice and get them started with a good credit history, I feel like I’m giving them something that will greatly affect their lives.

2) How to drive and maintain a car

It seems ludicrous that I have to add this to the list but I’m amazed at the number of teenagers and young adults who do not know how to drive. Knowing how to drive a car, again, should be an essential skill. Yes, there is talk of autonomous vehicles in our future but until then (and after then), knowing how to drive will serve them well. I also think that defensive driving is an essential skill. Too many times, my children observe insane drivers and, at this point, they complain. I want them to know how to avoid accidents, even with the crazy people on the road. I also hope they know how to keep a car well maintained. Keep the oil changed. Put in gas. Keep it clean. Keep air in the tires. Basic maintenance is good to know for everyone.

3) How to talk on the phone or in person

Again, it seems silly to include this on a list but so many kids aren’t used to talking on the phone anymore. Everything is done via text, email or social media. My daughters often act too shy to order for themselves at restaurants.  I do what I can to make them speak to people such as wait staff, grocery store clerks, customer service agents and the like.  I want them to know how to ask for what they want and to listen when someone is speaking to them. Personal interaction and manners will (hopefully) never go away and teaching these important skills will help with job prospects later on.

4) How to research

My daughter was recently doing a project for school and needed to get to the animal shelter to record part of a video. She had no idea that she needed to figure out where the shelter was, what hours they were open, if it was okay for her to record video, who she needed to talk to and so on. I walked her through it but she stumbled and ended up turning in her project late. I want all of my kids to feel comfortable doing research for things like this, how to get a license, how to apply for scholarships, how to buy car insurance, how to find a job, how to get help and all of the other how-to’s we encounter in life. If they feel confident that they can find out the answer, then they can accomplish anything.

5) How to set goals

Boy, this one is a lifelong learning thing, isn’t it? If I can just get my girls to add things to the calendars on the phones they already carry, their lives would be so much simpler! I want them to learn to create lists, to-do’s and goals that are completely accomplishable with a little time management, commitment and planning. They already set small goals and they find such joy in getting them done. I hope it inspires them to continue to see all things as possible with a little work and forethought.

6) How to make money

I think all kids should know how to make money. It could be anything from babysitting to lawn care to waiting tables to answering phones… there are numerous ways to get started and make ends meet. I think having interactions with the public is also good for them. It enhances social skills which come in handy while interviewing for and working other jobs. If my kids know that they can get a job, and they do their best to be responsible employees (or perhaps even entrepreneurs!), it will help them to recognize that they will always find a way to make ends meet, whether they go to college or not.

7) How to cook

I didn’t grow up cooking anything except macaroni & cheese and I learned the ropes of microwaving early on. (Mom and I took a course at the tech college on how to use a microwave when they first came on the scene. True story.) Thankfully, I married a man and into a family who prided themselves on homemade meals. You can’t beat that. It’s healthier too. I hope for my kids that they have a simple understanding of foods that they can prepare so they can eat something more than ramen. I want them to feel comfortable around a kitchen so that following a recipe is a no-brainer.

8) How to care for their body

Speaking of cooking, I also hope that my children have a basic understanding of foods that are good for them. Sure, I won’t be able to keep them from junk foods down the line but if they know that they’re junk foods, that’s something. I want them to know about healthy eating, fitness and exercise, hygiene, natural remedies, vitamins and what extra supplements to take when they’re sick. I hope they have a doctor that they trust and have some idea when to ask for help. I also want them to understand other things like hormones and safe sex and the effects of alcohol and drugs on their body.

9) How to care for their spirit

There are times that my daughters feel sad and they can’t explain why. Well, I tell them, hormones have a lot to do with it. So does just being a teenager. I want them to have an awareness of their feelings and understand when some feelings are only temporary. I have given them tools for praying in their own way, journaling to sort through things, observing their thoughts and comparisons to others, meditation and awareness of their breath, and how to allow themselves whatever they feel. I am teaching them the Four Agreements. I also hope they know that therapy is good for them, if they can’t handle things on their own. I’d like to think that as they learn more about themselves, they will know they can bounce back. As someone who had to learn on her own, I hope to inspire my children to recognize their own spiritual needs so they can take the necessary steps to fulfill them.

10) How to care for their home

I’ve asked my girls to imagine their rooms as their own apartment. We’ve decluttered and organized in the hopes that they will create good habits for their future living spaces. I have them clean their own spaces, down to scrubbing the toilet and doing their own laundry, because I want them to know how…. even if they have the means to pay someone else to do it later. I think all kids should know how to care for their space, even if they don’t keep it up regularly. There are also numerous things to keep learning, like lawn care, home maintenance, buying furniture and other household items. Lots to tend to and I’d like to think that, with the right research skills, they can figure it out on their own.

11) How to speak up and fight for themselves

I’ve been amazed at how my daughters will speak up for themselves when I, at their age, certainly wouldn’t have. For many, MANY reasons, I want all of my kids to be able to step away, speak up or stand out when they need to. There will be times when they will need to fight for what they think is right, for themselves or others. There will be times when they may feel unsafe and I hope they will gather their faith, their strength and all of their might to kick, scream, punch and claw themselves back to safety (physically and metaphorically).

12) That ‘No’ is a Complete Sentence

Man I wish I’d learned this one early. As girls, we’re especially taught to “be nice”. Being nice pleases people. As a people-pleaser, being nice can often mean being exhausted and resentful. I want my boys AND my girls to understand that it’s okay to say no. Their time is their time. Their BODY is their body. If they don’t want to do something, don’t do it. If someone makes them feel uncomfortable, they should trust their gut and intuition. Honor themselves and manage their lives as they can and no one, not even me, can tell them what they’re being guided to do.  It’s not up to them to make others happy. As someone who spent far too long trying to do that, trust me, it only brings self-misery.

13) How to respect others

If I can teach my kids one thing about respecting others, it would be to respect their property. If they’ve been invited to someone’s home for dinner, they should help clean up after eating. If they’re borrowing something from a friend or neighbor, they are to care for it and return it clean. If they’re staying with someone, they must clean up after themselves. This isn’t “being nice”, this is necessary. Offering respect is the one way to gain respect. Give people the benefit of the doubt, at least once. Expect good in others. Unless proven otherwise, I think most people will show up and offer the same in return. If they feel that their gut is telling them something different, see step #12 above.

14) That some things can be kept private

My daughters are always pointing out social media accounts where someone went “too far” in sharing. I hope they have a good understanding of what should and shouldn’t be shared. Their dad and I keep close watch on their accounts and have had many discussions when they did overshare. I think it’s always a learning process and thankfully, the girls are observant of and learning from their own and others’ mistakes. It’s a fine line that many of us are still treading.

15) How to make and nurture friendships

Friendships will get them through so much in their lives. I would like them to find and recognize those friendships that add to their lives, instead of toxic people who drain their energies. I would like them to know to stay connected to their friends, even as they have partners and spouses in their lives. I want them to also recognize the friendships they already have within their family units in the way of siblings. With my ex-husband’s remarriage and my long term relationship and adoption of their big brother, they have grown-in friends, if they continue to connect and nurture those relationships into adulthood.

16) That all relationships require work

I can’t imagine either of my daughters or our sons getting married with some blind idea that it’ll make them happy for the rest of their lives. That’s not cynical, that’s reality. No one person will complete them forever, except themselves. My girls have been witness to Mommy getting a divorce… and Mommy having her heart broken… and now Mommy doing her best to make it work with someone who lives far away. I hope that they, and my man’s boys, understand that relationships take hard work and focus but they are so very worth it. Communication, trust, connection, honesty, respect, compromise and a lot of other hard stuff all go into sticking it out for all of the greatness that it adds. Yeah, we’ve seen our fair share of Disney movies but I want them to know that Prince or Princess Charming doesn’t fix all of the stuff we’re feeling. We have to do much of the work on our own to meet our partners halfway. And if our partners know that too, the relationship can be a wonderful safe place to grow and thrive.

17) About Sex

I will more than likely write a completely separate post about this one because I believe it is extremely important and very few want to talk about it.  Starting with their own bodies, from the physical to the emotional and spiritual, I think teenagers need to understand what sex is and what it isn’t. I also want them to understand that it’s okay if you don’t want to have sex or if you do. I know men raise their boys to “get laid” in teenhood and girls are taught to “save their virginity”. There’s too much skewed information around this topic and I think we need to have some serious conversation about it. More to come.

18) How to be in the world

The world is a strange place and getting stranger all of the time. I hope that my children understand that things will move them, frighten them and bring them great joy. I would like them to remain open to all of it. Take it in. Get out and explore it. Learn new languages and cultures. Read more books. Do something for the community. I hope, when they can’t take anymore, that they’ll give to someone else instead. I hope they will talk to someone that they don’t know and learn something new. Sure, there will be times that the focus will be on their own small world, community or family. I hope they will BE truly present there. And then step out of it, outside of the comfort zone, however briefly, so they’ll bring so much more to the world they’ve built around them.

19) That sometimes they’ll be wrong, and that’s okay

I have to laugh at the things I knew “for certain” when I was a teenager. Heck, even the things I knew for certain last week! It’s really tough to admit that you’re mistaken but I think it is an essential life skill. Saying “I’m sorry” is another one. Learning forgiveness, yep, this one is pretty enormous too. The way I see it, if a person can be open to not knowing, open to the possibility that they might be wrong, then they’re open to a pretty amazing life. There will be people that they thought they knew too, who will disappoint them. These are all really uncomfortable things to go through and I may not be able to teach them all while the kids are in my home. I do hope they get a glimpse of imperfection in me, even as I try the best that I can, so they can learn to be okay with their own misgivings.

20) That they’ll find their way

I’ve asked several of my Facebook friends to tell me what they studied or majored in during college and what they’re doing now. At least 95 percent of the time, they’re doing something completely different than what they thought they’d be doing. I’ve lived many different lifetimes, both personally and in my career, and although there was some confusion, I made my way. Of course I did! I hope all of my kids know that. I hate the pressure to go to college and know exactly what they’re going to do with their lives. They’ll figure it out, like we did. It’s not like they’re gonna die if they don’t have a career choice by age 20. I’ve told my girls that as long as they’re paying their own bills, taking care of themselves, not hurting others and are happy, I don’t care what they do. College is always available to them – there is no age limit. Relationships, also, may come and go but it’s never the end. Don’t ever give up and think that life’s over because something didn’t work out. They’ll always find their way, in all of it. Promise.

21) That they’re amazing

Ahhhhh…. I hope all of my kids, boys and girls, never forget they’re awesome. I hope that with every accomplishment, let down, good or bad spot, they recognize that none of us know what the hell we’re doing. We’re all making it up as we go along. They’re not expected to know everything – it’s okay to ask for help. Everyone of us, even that person that they think has it better, has their own struggles and doubts. Comparison is the thief of joy, if you let it. Happiness may be temporarily illusive but joy will always be available, waiting, deep inside.

Categories:   parenthood

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