Basic life skills. That’s a phrase that can mean lots of different things to different people. A quick Google search yields a long and varied list. And according to the site SkillsYouNeed.com, there is, in fact, no concrete list of skills to learn in life believing that “[c]ertain skills may be more or less relevant to you depending on your life circumstances, your culture, beliefs, age, geographic location, etc….[and] that different life skills will be more or less relevant at different times [in] your life.”1
I can get behind all of that. However, when it comes to preparing our children to launch — getting them ready to “adult” outside the umbrella of our care and teaching them certain essential skills before they tackle college or a career — there are a few areas where we need to be intentional in our efforts to equip and let go.
The Importance of Life Skills
In parenting, we often teach our children what we value, or perhaps what we desire for them to learn, particularly if there is something we found lacking in our own upbringing and experiences.
I can’t teach what I don’t know, and sometimes the skills we need are those that only come from testing, trial and error, and experience. So, as you prepare your children for life outside the nest, get comfortable with the fact their lessons in learning won’t fall completely to you to teach.
As parents, we spend a lifetime learning to let go of our children. It’s fun in the early years as children learn new things and take steps of independence under our caring and loving eyes. We celebrate those meaningful victories of independence like holding a bottle or sippy cup, learning to tie their own shoes, riding a bike. The childhood list of milestones goes on for days!
However, as birthdays stack up, the idea of letting go gets a bit more challenging, and for many, the middle and high school years become a struggle for control. Too often, instead of loosening our grip, where appropriate to teach and guide, we start tightening our hold. And in doing so, we deny our children the opportunity to learn important life skills.
Each of us probably has a slightly different “hot button” for those areas we like to manage.
But as a parent, we should be committed to lead, guide, and advise, rather than holding on so tightly they aren’t prepared to step independently into the life God created them to live. It requires a hard and honest look at ourselves and perhaps also signals a lack of trust in God’s sovereign love for our children.
Hopefully, we all can agree on at least one thing: our goal in parenting is to raise children who leave. Whether you have teenagers or soon-to-be teenagers, and regardless of whether their plans after high school point to college or career, launching them into adulthood prepared to face life independently should be a priority.
Because quite frankly, many of the things we’re holding on to don’t require those big, scary leaps of faith; they are day-to-day tasks, essential skills for living, we simply don’t want to let go.
5 Things You Should Stop Doing for Your Teenager
For now, let’s look at parenting teenagers to consider where letting go becomes necessary to help prepare them for college and beyond. I surveyed parents who had recently sent children to college, and the list below comes from the combined feedback from my personal experiences, as well as those that were shared with me.
It may seem obvious, but sadly, I’ve heard one too many stories of students who were ill-prepared when it came time to leave the comforts of home. It’s easy to want to take care of ALL. THE. THINGS, particularly for stay-at-home parents and/or Type-A personalities. Why? Well, many times, it’s just easier knowing things will be done EXACTLY the way you like it. I’ve been 100% guilty of this.
But if the goal of parenting is to launch kids into independence, we must be intentional in teaching (or trying to teach) them some of those essential, independent-living life skills. If nothing else, do it for the sake of their future roommates and/or spouse!
What are the 5 essential skills your teen should learn to handle?
There’s a fine line between involvement and helicoptering when it comes to our children’s academic success. When children are in elementary school, parents are instrumental in guiding study habits, building organizational skills, and setting important expectations about school and learning. For many parents, though, their level of hands-on involvement fails to shift as the child gets older. And with easy access to all things academic via the electronic gradebook, many parents quickly get wrapped around the axle monitoring progress…or lack thereof.
However, if I could offer you one important piece of advice, it would be this: Step away from the eGradebook. When I consider my son’s freshman year in high school, it feels foundational to his eventual college success. It was a huge step for me and my husband in learning to let go and one of the best, and hardest, parenting decisions we made.
When I left for college, this was a life skill I lacked. While I had other chores around my house growing up, somehow, I escaped learning to do laundry. Thankfully, one of my best friends, who also happened to be my college roommate freshman year, showed me the ropes. But that experience left an impression on me.
So in raising our children, I wanted to make sure that when we sent them off, they were prepared to live independently. Now, I also don’t love doing laundry or ironing, so it’s possible this was simply my way of avoiding a bigger task. But I’m going to keep believing my motives were purely altruistic.
Either way, knowing how to do this essential basic skill is critical, and both of my kids had lots of practice with this long before leaving for college.
It also seems I’m not alone with this opinion. In fact, it was the top response from parents who responded to our survey. If your teen isn’t doing their own laundry yet, it’s time!
Please, please, please, teach them this before they leave for college. And by the way, they need to learn to do it all: sorting, washing, folding, and then putting it all away.
Would I find clean clothes left in laundry baskets on the floor of their room? Yes. Did it make me crazy? Also yes. Did I take over doing their laundry so that it would be done “right”? No. Let this go. If all their socks end up pink, well, that’s a good lesson to learn, too, and life will go on.
Learning to do laundry is an important basic life skill, so teach this sooner rather than later.
3. Waking up in the morning
High school, in particular, is a training ground for independent living. As painful as it might be at first, particularly for those who aren’t naturally early risers, your teen needs to be able to manage their morning routine. When they go off to college, you won’t be there to wake them up for class.
It seems like such a silly thing, but it’s an important step in self-management. There are natural consequences that follow if they are late to school or to an activity/sport. So let them learn the lesson while they still are living at home because the consequences of missing class in college or being late to work are significantly greater.
There’s an element of time management here, as well, that will serve them greatly as an adult.
Does anyone love to clean? While there might be a few — other than my grandmother, who, in fact, did enjoy cleaning — I don’t know anyone that necessarily loves it. But, my goodness, if there is one thing your child needs to know, it’s how not to live in filth!
While, yes, dorm bathrooms are cleaned with some regularity, that won’t be the case for a student living off-campus. Additionally, cleanliness extends beyond the bathroom, so make sure your student knows the basics.
Regardless of whether they live in a dorm, apartment, or house, most will share a space with roommates. And if there’s one thing that causes tempers to flare, it’s a roommate that never cleans up after him/herself. In addition to grateful roommates, their future spouses will thank you.
This is not about the occasional helping hand, but it’s another step in responsibility and time management. On occasion, I would help my kids with lunch when they were in high school, but most of the time, it was a responsibility that fell to them. It’s a small step in meal planning, too, which they will need to figure out once they move beyond high school.
Along this same line, let your teens help with grocery shopping to give them some ownership over the lunches they decide to make. And while you’re at it, you can also teach them a few basic recipes and skills in the kitchen. Who knows, they may discover a new passion…bonus for you!
5 Basic Life Skills To Learn Before College
As students get closer to high school graduation, there are a few essential skills that should be tacked on to the list above. I grouped the following together because they’re more specific to teenagers who also are driving.
So while the top five are things you should stop doing for your teenager beginning in middle school, these last five focus on skills pertinent as you prepare to launch them into college or a career.
Each of the basic life skills below was shared by parents who have sent children to college. When asked the question, “Before teens leave for college, what things should they be able to do?” the following were included in their responses:
1. Financial management
Nearly every parent who responded to our survey, which asked a variety of questions about launching teenagers from high school to college, included financial management somewhere in their list. This can be a difficult step in preparing your teen for college (and beyond), but it’s a critical step in teaching your kids to manage and understand their finances.
Regardless of your personal financial position, here’s what several parents said were key things a student should know and understand before they head to college:
- Balance a checking account: Online banking has changed the look of this, but it’s still important for your teen to understand, and be mindful of, their accounts. If you’re the money manager in your house, I think this can be a hard one to let go of.
There’s a great deal of control that comes with managing the purse strings, but do your child a favor and pass along these important skills. If you need a helpful resource, here’s an article worth reading and sharing: “Is Balancing a Checkbook Still Relevant?”
- Have a budget: A never-ending money tree won’t help your student in the long run. Decide what they will need to pay for from their discretionary funds, and then stick to it. When the money is gone, it’s gone. Depending on your child, this can be an easy or painful process to manage.
- Managing credit cards: By giving your teen a credit card before they go to college, you can help them establish and build positive credit history and teach them important lessons about financial management. When they go to college, it’s a must, in my opinion, because so many things, including books, will need to be purchased online. But set reasonable parameters around what is an allowable purchase, particularly since you’re likely paying the bills.
When I participated in parent Q&A sessions as a member of A&M’s Parent & Family Advisory Council, this, too, was an area where parents of incoming freshmen always had questions.
Questions such as these often were frequently asked:
- How much money should I give my student for discretionary spending?
- What types of things should I require my student to pay for from those discretionary funds?
- Should I require my student to work?
All of the questions above are important and need to be resolved before dropping your kid off at college, but none of them have a standard answer. However, if you have laid the groundwork of understanding finances and budgets before then, what a gift you will have given your teen for whatever financial decisions you make with them.
Personally, I don’t think my husband and I always did this well, but so far, both our kids seem to have a decent grasp on this important basic life skill.
2. Cooking skills
While on-campus college living will require little from your student in the way of cooking, they won’t be on a meal plan forever! So by the time they leave home, it’s important they have a few basic cooking skills under their belt.
Understanding the basics of meal prep and planning, along with a few simple, healthy meal ideas, will set them off on the right foot and hopefully give them the tools for making smart choices. Now, whether they actually do or not is an entirely different story, but at least you’ve done your part!
3. Car care
Once your teen has a driver’s license, here are a few things to begin teaching:
- Basic maintenance: oil changes (when to have that done, what type of oil does their car need), tire rotation schedule, car wash, etc.
- What to do in case of a flat tire.
- How to jump a car when it won’t start.
- What to do in case of an accident.
4. Making appointments
It seems so insignificant, but it’s something that strikes a chord with parents. Many appointments now can be made online, so this probably has become less of a big deal. However, more than one parent brought up the issue of their teenagers being reluctant to make appointments over the phone, so let’s address it.
It’s not that they can’t; it’s that they’ve never had to do it. You probably don’t need to be the one making hair appointments, doctor and dentist appointments, etc. up until the minute they leave for college. Share with them the “how-tos” and then let that go.
When it comes to physician appointments, in particular, here are a few helpful tips from our readers:
- Know what to say
- Know what information to have ready (i.e. insurance card)
- A workable calendar open and ready
Before they leave for college, you’ll also want to help them make a plan about where to go if they get sick. Figure this out BEFORE it happens. If not, you might find yourself paying for an ER visit simply because they didn’t realize the difference between CareNow and Urgent Care.
5. Time Management
While there are many wonderful things about extracurricular activities, learning time management skills often is one of those unexpected, but wonderful, consequences that stem from a schedule that holds more than just school.
Because when your teen heads to college, those time management skills will be tested. Knowing how to balance their newfound freedom can come with struggle, so allow them opportunities to practice it while they’re still living at home.
For many college freshmen, learning to prioritize study and rest over fun with friends will be a work-in-progress, but they’ll have to decide on their own pretty quickly if it’s study time or party time.
If you still don’t feel compelled to hand over some chores to your teenager, then consider this from Kimberley Gorelik’s post on We Are Teachers:
“Beyond learning practical things like how to do dishes or vacuum, chores are also shown to help teens academically, emotionally, and professionally.”
You can read more in her post highlighting 15 basic life skills teens need to help them be successful; I think you’ll enjoy it.
So what else? If you have recently sent a child to college or are preparing to do so, what would you say are the basic life skills students need to learn before college?
Email me and let me know!