14 must-have life skills for teens

-Connie Matthiessen 

Your nearly-grown-up teenager can conjugate latin verbs, do quadratic equations, and write a slam-dunk essay. But do they know that washing a white T-shirt with red skinny jeans will turn it pink?

If you’re wondering how your teen will survive on their own, don’t worry too much — chances are your child is a lot more capable than you think. Even so, now is a good time to teach your teen a few practical skills that will leave both of you feeling a little more confident about your offspring’s readiness to leave the nest.

  1. How to do the laundry

    If your child isn’t already doing their own laundry, it’s time to learn. Removing lip balm and pens from pockets, hot water or cold, sorting colors, dealing with delicate fabrics, and removing lint from the dryer should all be part of the curriculum.

  2. How to clean the bathroom

    Your child’s future roommates and romantic partners will thank you for making sure they know how to clean a bathroom. This includes what products and tools to use and which surfaces should not be ignored.

  3. How to plunge a toilet

    Ditto #2. Unfortunately there’s no substitute for hands-on learning here. The next time there’s a clog, hand your teen a plunger and let them know the best way to learn is by doing. (And mention that this is a skill that could one day save them from an embarrassing moment as a guest.)

  4. Basic first aid and CPR

    Everyone should know the basics of what to do in a medical emergency, from handling minor injuries to knowing when to seek medical help right away. Teens can feel at once invincible and powerless, so have a discussion about when to call for an emergency — even if they risk getting themselves or someone else into trouble. It truly is always better to be safe than sorry.

  5. How to boil water — and more

    Is your teen’s cooking repertoire limited to frozen pizza and mac and cheese? If so, encourage them to choose a couple of easy dishes to master. (Bonus if they actually include vegetables!) See them through from shopping to clean-up. As the school year winds down, ask your teen to cook dinner once or twice to practice and expand their college-cooking skills. And if your child’s dorm only allows a rice cooker and a coffee maker, challenge your child to find the innovative one-pot or boiled-water-only recipes they can dash out with these minimal tools. Plus, that in-room hot cocoa, coffee, oatmeal, ramen, and rice-cooker-steamed-stir-fry are far cheaper than the alternatives at the food court.

  6. How to budget

    If you haven’t already, sit down with your child and show them how to draw up a monthly budget based on how much money they’ll have to spend each month. Explain how you handle your household income, spending, and savings, and point out some of the choices you have to make to stay within your budget. Discuss spending choices they’ll likely encounter in college, and how to manage them.

  7. How to pay bills, manage a bank account, and pay taxes

    Does your teen have a bank account yet? If not, help your child open one — ideally at a bank with a branch near campus. Your teen needs to know some key things, like how to access the account online, check the balance, pay bills, whether or not there’s a minimum balance requirement (and what that is), how to avoid overdraft fees, and how to notify the bank if their debit card is lost or stolen. Finally, yes, the thrill of being an adult includes paying taxes. If your teen has a job of any kind, it’s a good idea to file taxes. A dependent who didn’t earn all that much will likely get a refund.

  8. How to use a credit card

    Credit card companies pepper college students with credit card offers, so even if you don’t want your student to have a credit card yet, you should discuss the pros and cons of credit cards with your teen anyway. Discuss specifics like interest rates and fees, as well as other risks.

  9. Basic car maintenance

    If your child has a car (and even if your teen will be riding in other people’s cars), make sure they know what the car’s various check engine lights mean and what to do if they go on. There’s no time like the present for kids to learn how to check oil, water, and tire pressure levels, find the spare and change a tire, and jump a car battery. Have a talk about how much money it saves down the line to have a car serviced regularly. If you can swing it, adding your teen to your roadside assistance service may be a good move, too, in case they get stuck and need a tow.

  10. How to read a map

    Google maps and navigators only work when your device is charged and getting a signal. But a lost, dead, or broken device shouldn’t keep a teen from getting safely where they’re going. There’s nothing better than a paper map to navigate new territory when the going gets tough — but reading a map is a skill that needs to be taught and practised.

  11. How to write a professional email

    Sure, your child’s been submitting school work electronically for a while now, but can your teen write a polite, concise email that shows them in the best possible light — a message that’s clear, to the point, error-, slang- and emoji-free?

  12. How to manage their time and health

    Your teen is fresh off successfully juggling senior year and college apps, but you were there to make sure they ate and slept. Late-night pizza and all-nighters may be a rite of passage in college, but you want to make sure your teen understands the effects that sleep (and lack thereof) and nutrition (ditto) have on their brain and cognition.

  13. Trusting their inner voice

    You’ve likely had this conversation at different points in your teen’s childhood but now is a good time for the college version. There will be so many new scenarios coming your teen’s way, you cannot cover them all. But it’s a good idea to practice talking through a few. Can your child tell when a person is high or sketchy — and keep a healthy distance? Can your child deflect questions that seem off or think of ways to excuse themselves when things get… weird? This is, actually, something you can practice together or that your teen can practice with their friends.

  14. How (and when) to ask for help

    Make sure your teen knows they’re not supposed to know how to do everything. There’s no shame in not knowing. Capable, independent people became that way by asking for help when they need it! Brainstorm with your teen to identify trusted sources or adults they can go to for help, from the resident advisor in their dorm to their college counsellor to a local relative or friend of the family — that is, when you’re not available by text.

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