I can’t believe I’ve arrived at this point. After nearly 26 years of hands-on parenting, I’m mere weeks away from watching my youngest child graduate high school and venture out into the real world on his own. Then, two days later, I will watch another child (the first of my kids) get married and start her own family. Meanwhile, the other two are navigating career choices and college struggles in their quest for independence.
All these major life changes have brought my parenting skills into sharp scrutiny. And the big question looms: did I teach them the right teenage life skills to prepare them for young adulthood and beyond? Or did I spin my wheels on things that didn’t matter as much to their long-term success?
What I wish I had back in the days of sippy cups, nap schedules, and deciding when to give my kids smartphones were a few seasoned moms to take me aside, look me in the eye, and tell me where I should spend my time and precious mom resources to get the most bang for my parenting buck.
So, to all you younger moms out there, listen up. This is me draping my arm around your shoulder to give you some pointers on helping your young and teenage kids develop the skills they need to “adult” with confidence and composure.
Money Management Skills
Help your kids navigate the ins and outs of money and give them some monetary responsibility early on. The more they know about money while under your roof, the better equipped they will be when they reach the magic age of 18 and venture out on their own.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- Encourage your kids to get a part-time job outside the home. Kids pay closer attention to how they spend the money they have worked hard to earn themselves.
- Open teen checking, savings, and credit accounts for your kids under your banking umbrella. This allows them the opportunity to learn to manage money on their own while still giving you a voice.
- Help them develop and stick to a budget. A budget doesn’t need to be complicated or set in stone to teach important principles of money management and empower teens to be in control of money rather than letting money (or the lack thereof) control them.
You can read more money management ideas for your teens at Teaching Your Kids About Money, Budgeting, and More! and 15 Ways to Teach Kids About Money.
House Cleaning Skills
I get it, teens like to live messy. My own kids’ rooms can attest to that time-honored truth. And on some levels, that’s their business. I learned early on that it’s easier (and less volatile) to close their door and walk away. If they can stand the filth, who am I to stop them (as disgusted as I might be)?
But that mess doesn’t need to spread to other rooms in the house. And that doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t have to do their fair share to pitch in on household chores. They eat in the kitchen, so why not hold them accountable for dish duty? They spend inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom, so why not encourage them to scrub toilets and tubs? In addition to being contributing members of the family, they will learn skills that will be valuable that first week they move into a room full of roommates at college with no parents in sight.
According to verywellfamily.com, helping your kids develop house cleaning skills can
- Help build their independence and self-esteem.
- Encourage them to finish important tasks.
- Help them learn organization skills.
- Encourage them to be community builders by contributing to the well-being of the whole family.
I am learning the importance of this one the hard way. I have never loved to cook. Baking delicious breads and desserts, yes. But cooking actual meals, not so much. With a young family, it always felt like a chore. I did it because I believe in the importance of eating home-cooked meals together as a family. As Stanford Children’s Health puts it, “When a family sits down together, it helps them handle the stresses of daily life and the hassles of day-to-day existence. Eating together tends to promote more sensible eating habits, which in turn helps family members manage their weight more easily.”
But I never put much heart into the food prep part of it.
Consequently, my older kids went to college without much cooking practice. Thankfully, they have taken on the challenge admirably and figured some things out. But they would have been better off to learn this valuable life skill in their teenage years.
Here are some resources to check out if you are like me and need a little help or motivation in this area.
- Let’s Get Cooking! Simple Tips for Teaching Kids to Cook
- Teaching Kids to Cook
- The Best Recipes for Teaching Kids How to Cook
- Cooking Skills Every Kid Should Learn by Age 10
I have a friend who is accomplishing the nearly impossible. She is raising eight (yes, you read that right!) children who have been doing their own laundry since they were toddlers. Let me just say how impressive I think that is. She might tell you it’s out of sheer necessity because eight kids go through a lot of clothes in a week, especially active kids who participate in multiple sports. But to me, it’s a complete mom win in the area of teaching teenagers (and younger kids) life skills. As those five boys and three girls get older, they are confident in the laundry arena because they’ve been doing it literally their whole lives.
Here are some of the important skills teens should know about laundry.
- Sorting dirty laundry
- Spot treating stains
- Choosing the right settings on the machines
- Cleaning out the lint trap
- Folding clean laundry, including those pesky fitted sheets
- Learning how to iron, especially dress shirts for boys
- Putting clean clothes away (and no! that doesn’t mean in a nice pile in a corner of their room)
While practical household skills are absolutely necessary for survival in the grown-up world, they are no more important than helping your kids learn good interpersonal skills. In this tech-heavy world, our kids know how to navigate virtual reality with much more confidence than they do the real one.
Here are a few basic interpersonal skills all teens should know how to do.
- Introduce yourself to people you don’t know.
- Acknowledge people around you and engage in conversations.
- Look people in the eye when talking.
- When you see a need, offer to help.
- Don’t leave people out.
- Learn how to make phone calls to schedule appointments or ask someone on a date.
If you’re looking for more ideas, check out these suggestions at Social Savvy: The Art of Personal Interaction.
And finally, pass on a solid faith tradition to your children. Regardless of your religious affiliation, teach your kids how to have faith in something bigger than themselves. Give them a set of moral values. According to NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), “Religion gives people something to believe in, provides a sense of structure and typically offers a group of people to connect with over similar beliefs. These facets can have a large positive impact on mental health—research suggests that religiosity reduces suicide rates, alcoholism and drug use.”
But it’s not just about mental health. Faith skills help your kids learn and live moral standards of conduct that benefit not only themselves and your family but the entire global community. According to Forbes.com, regular religious attendance increases life expectancy by seven years and lowers the rate of juvenile delinquency significantly. Their studies also find that those who attend church regularly are more likely to give to charity, help in the community, and be generally happier.
So, if you attend a church, encourage your kids to join you. And if you don’t, consider honing this life skill together. The church you choose doesn’t matter nearly as much as making it a part of your regular schedule. It’s a skill that will see your kids through the challenges in life they will inevitably face.
Get to Work
The most important thing to remember about teaching those teenage life skills is to just get to work—one step at a time. They are counting on you to help them become the amazing adults they have the potential to be. So, use this time wisely and teach them the basic skills they need to hit the ground running when they reach adulthood. Then you can wave to them as they walk away, confident in their ability to survive in the real world. But don’t worry; if you have food in the cupboards and two open arms, they’ll be back—thanking you for all you did to help them make it on their own.