Life skills

10 Life Skills for Your Teen

With all the talk about high school, college, and career planning, it can be easy to overlook more basic knowledge that we as parents might take for granted. We can’t assume our teens will acquire life skills without a little guidance from us. Here’s a list of 10 important life skills we can help our kids with now.

1. Organization

Organization can look different for everyone. The big thing we always stress is that any methods used must fit your child’s style. We might love that fancy paper planner with the tabs, but if it doesn’t fit our teen, they aren’t going to use it.

Being organized must start with an understanding of the importance of being organized. Sometimes students can slide by and be successful in high school without much organization. They see their teachers every day. They are reminded every day what their next assignment is and when it is due. However, when students go to college, they may only see their professor two or three times a week. The professor is going to expect them to read the syllabus and stay on schedule. Our teens may not realize this change is coming, and they need to have tools to support the new reality.

Organization does not have to be limited to one tool. A student could use a combination of traditional paper planners, a white board, their phone or laptop, task apps, etc. Try some and see what fits. Some students may need more professional help with executive functioning issues like organization. (You can find some professionals on our friends page.)

2. Study skills

Good study skills are probably something you have been continuously working on since kindergarten. Staying organized is just a piece of this skill. Create and maintain a schedule. Reduce distractions. Avoid procrastination. (Here are some tips for dealing with procrastination.) Have a good space to study that includes any tools you’ll need. Don’t cram the night before. Get support from others (teacher, peers, tutors, siblings, parents). As parents, we know what these are, and it’s important to help you child really build this muscle later in high school to prepare for college. This article from the University of North Carolina is great to share with your teen and has tips on studying smarter not harder.

3. Financial literacy

We can’t assume that our students learned financial literacy in school. We could write a whole article about this topic, but let’s mention some concepts students need to learn about: understanding bank accounts, paychecks, loans, credit cards, debt, savings, credit scores, budgeting, taxes, etc. It’s a lot! Here is a great article with helpful information on topics to talk about.

4. Making phone calls

When a teen says they know how to use their mobile phone, they probably mean they know how to text or message or snap or DM. Most teens are really hesitant to actually dial a phone number and talk to a real live person. They freeze. They’ll say, “Can’t I just email them?” As adults, we know speaking on the phone is an important skill.

Teens are afraid of several things when calling—not being able to answer a question asked of them, not making a good impression, and embarrassing themselves by being awkward. When they talk on the phone, they can’t edit what they say before they say it.

Reassure your teen that the adult on the other end of the line is not looking for perfection—just conversation. Have them start with a more minor task like booking a hair appointment or calling to ask a store’s hours. Practice ahead of time. A teen’s anxious phone feelings can only be overcome with practice and repetition. Bonus? They are pretty proud of themselves after making a call!

5. Email etiquette

Writing an email can be tricky. Teens aren’t familiar with how adult professionals email each other. They may default to a relaxed style which is okay for their friends but doesn’t work when emailing a college admissions rep or a hiring manager for an internship.

Coach them to start with a greeting (Dear Ms. Smith) and close with “regards” or similar, their name, and phone number, use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation, remember “please” and “thank you” when asking for something, use a business style of writing, and identify what the email is about in your subject line.

We may take these things for granted, but this style may be completely foreign to our kids.

6. Car stuff

We’re talking about more than filling the car with gas. We’re talking about understanding a bit about how a car works (why oil needs to be changed, how batteries are recharged or drained, what happens to the air pressure in tires when the weather changes) and basic maintenance like jump starting the battery, changing the windshield wipers, filling the fluids, maintaining proper air pressure in the tires, getting the oil changed, etc.

Talk with them about the variety of service providers they can go when there is a problem (depending on your approach to the subject)—oil change services, auto parts stores, tire shops, independent garages, or dealerships.

If they have been lucky enough to never have been involved in a car accident, it may have been a while since they learned about what to do in the event of a crash. If they are taking a car with them to college, be sure to revisit that topic. Also help them to understand what car insurance is, what it covers, and what they have.

7. Stress management and self care

We are not experts in stress management and self care, but during our years of working with teens to consider career thinking and self assessment, we’ve seen plenty of evidence that many teens can really struggle in this area. Please arm your student with knowledge about dealing in healthy ways with stress and taking care of themselves by eating properly, getting enough sleep, developing friendships, having fun, getting some exercise, etc. Continually remind them that seeking out support before it gets to be too much is a sign of strength and not weakness. Check out this guide to stress management.

8. Cooking for yourself

You might be able to skip right over this one. Your teen may already be great at cooking. Maybe they only know how to make ramen, peanut butter and jelly, and frozen pizza. That is okay, too. But the fun part of this one is that most students like to eat, and it’s a great opportunity for you and your kiddo to cook together (and eat together!).

Encourage your teen to find a new recipe they’d like to try. Have them create their shopping list, shop together, and then prepare it, allowing them to take the lead. Or maybe they want to learn how to make a family favorite. Spending time together cooking is always a good thing, and it does make most parents breathe a sigh of relief when their child knows how to cook for themselves.

9. Laundry

If your teen isn’t already doing their own laundry, now is a great time to rip that Band-Aid off. (We hear parents everywhere cheering!) And truthfully, many teens have already mastered the skill of separating their whites from their darks. Ramp up their skill level with mini lessons on how to remove a stain, the importance of folding (versus balling up on the floor or in a hamper), and how to wash towels and sheets.

Another great conversation to have is how to use a laundromat. Many colleges use student ID cards preloaded with funds to pay for laundry, but your student may find themselves in an apartment with a coin-operated laundry. Where do you get quarters?! And that washer is likely a little different from the one at home. Good to discuss now!

10. The power of Google!

It may sound crazy but bear with us a second. All their lives, our kids turned to us when they didn’t know how to do something. Often, kids will continue to text mom or dad after they go away to college as soon as they run into a problem without even trying to solve it on their own first. “How do I get the toilet to stop running?” “What do I do about the wasp in the bedroom?”

Sometimes as parents we don’t know the best answer, so we may turn to Google or some other source for the answer. Our kids need to develop that skill as well—the ability to NOT turn to parents first and try some problem solving on their own. When they do this independent problem-solving, they are often quite proud to share those details with their parents later!

We’re not talking about the big things like their health or their relationships or those things where they need a family member’s guidance. Of course as parents, we’re here for those. But teach them to seek out some answers to life’s small problems with a Google search or asking a friend. There they can discover the inner workings of the apartment toilet or the magic of bug spray.

What is the biggest benefit to acquiring new life skills?

Besides being a functioning adult. 😉

The best thing about learning these life skills is that with each skill conquered the teen gains more and more confidence. They are ready for what comes next, and they can tackle the world. Bring it on! And as parents, we know we’ve taken another step toward helping our teens become the independent young adults that will enter the world with the skills to handle what’s ahead.


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