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8 Life Skills Your Teen Needs Now

teen boy and girl

There's no time like the present--you know when your teens are stuck at home with you. The pandemic offers ample opportunity to teach our children independence. As our kids grow into the teen years, they've hopefully learned a few things like good manners; how to study; how to manage their emotions, and deal with peer pressure. If they are older and heading off to college or moving out and working, we need to know they're prepared for those too. Though it is sometimes easier to do everything for them, it is not what is best for them. It is essential to teach them the skills they need to succeed in life. Don't panic, we still have time!


Let's start with something easy. You won’t be there to do it for them in college—though be warned, they seem to come home with a lot of dirty clothes. The key here is not to assume they know-how. If you haven’t actually taught them and watched them do it, they truly may not have a clue. If you can, add more than just washing and drying to the skills list. Teach them how to sew a button, iron, and even fold or roll their clothes so they fit more in drawers or suitcases.


Coping with emotions means recognizing them, understanding the sources of them, noticing how this affects them, and acting in ways that help them control those emotions. They need to learn positive coping styles and be able to adjust their situations as needed. Sometimes that's learning to relax or meditate; maybe it's running off steam or talking to someone. Coping with emotions includes recognizing emotions in others, being aware of how emotions influence behavior and being able to respond to emotions appropriately. An important aspect of this skill is learning to manage intense emotions like anger or sadness that can have negative effects on our health if we're not careful.


A few meals, really. This starts with knowing how to plan and shop for healthy food and to know whether the produce is good or not. They may not have to in college, thanks to meal plans, but they sure should know their way around a kitchen. Fry or scramble some eggs, make some toast; throw a sandwich together, make pasta--at least boil ramen—a staple for college-age kids. Basically, if they find themselves alone in a kitchen, hungry and no one else around, they should feel that “Yeah, I’ve got this.”


Campus safety and sexual assault are significant issues on college campuses. Your teens can’t be prepared for everything, but they can be careful and mindful of their surroundings, and they can research the safety of their school before they go. Talk to them about watching out for others, making a safe community themselves, and knowing how to get help on campus. They should walk with others at night, know where the blue lights (or whatever system the college uses) are, and try to avoid getting super drunk. Make sure they also know to use condoms and birth control--and they know a ton about consent!


Although there are health centers on campus, our teens should know how to perform basic first aid as well as prevent health issues like the cold and flu. If nothing else, they sure know how to wash their hands now! Barring all that, let's make sure they know how to make an appointment with a doctor, how to navigate a pharmacy, fill prescriptions, and find any other resources that they may need. Hopefully, they remember to shower, too!


While your teens are still home, teach them about money. Make sure your college kid already knows how to handle money before they actually are far away and in control of it. Do they know how to open a bank account and keep track of important papers and an ATM card? It's critical that they can make and stick to a budget and can prioritize strategically. Maybe they want to go to a big concert but need to save money to do so. Discuss ahead of time what, if anything you will be paying for day to day. For instance, they want to go away for a weekend and visit a friend or see a game. Does that come out of your bank account or theirs? Flights or trains home—you or them? Textbooks can add up quickly….so just check that they will buy the book before the beer! Lastly, teach them how to apply for a credit card and use it responsibly down the line.


After living at home with your complete support all these years, they need to be able to stand on their own two feet. Standing up for yourself is one of the most important skills in life. It’s hard to ask for help—we all want to be competent and confident--but there will be times that for whatever reason we need help. Make sure your teens know how to ask for what they need. Many times in college you don't get into the class you want--are there ways to try to make it happen anyway? Yes. Or maybe the math is too hard, or they have an issue with a roommate or they have Anxiety. There are many places they can go for help, but they have to know how to ask and that it's ok--it's more than ok.

Along with standing up for themselves, teach them to listen well, and communicate calmly. When things aren't going their way they need to understand that, and to participate in a discussion and negotiate in the conversation. To self-advocate, they need to be comfortable speaking to authority figures whether that's a professor, a boss, or a policewoman.


Last, but in no way least, we need to ensure our kids are resilient. No one gets through college without failing at something. No one gets through life without failing. Period. Let them know that, so they don’t end up feeling embarrassed or defeated. Teach them to take ownership by instilling respect, responsibility, and pride in themselves and their community or school. If they are connected to you, have friends, and feel part of a whole, they do better. Make sure they have the resilience to come back from tough times and handle whatever life throws at them.

With resilience comes perseverance. And we all need that.

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