By the time our kids reach their teenager years, we can see the end in sight. Of course we’ll be jumping for joy sad when they take that next step of independence to find a place of their own or move away to college. But let’s face it, who wants to still be raising their children when they’re 35? To ensure this doesn’t happen, there are some very basic skills that every teenager should know. If I’ve missed any, be sure to add them in the comments.
How to boil water
…as well as other means of cooking. If you’re not there to make your teen a sandwich, will they starve? If you haven’t already, start teaching your child the fundamentals of making a meal, staples they should always have on hand, using food before it spoils, grocery shopping so that there’s still food on Friday when shopping is done on Sunday… They should also know how to work a microwave, a stove, and an oven without burning the house down. And they should be aware of how to read labels and make healthy choices to avoid the Freshman 15, and that in the long run, eating out costs much more than making food at home.
How to save a buck
Raise your hand if you really hope to be your kid’s ATM for life. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Then this skill might be the most important one you can teach them – how to handle their money. Your teen should know how to create a budget and stick to it – putting money aside for bills to be paid on time before any money is spent on fun. And money for fun should be included in that budget as well. Help them open a checking account of their own and teach them how to keep it balanced, how to use the ATM machine, and that the balance the bank says they have is rarely ever the real balance. Have them apply for a credit card, but stress how important it is to use it for necessities and not to furnish their whole apartment – and the importance of paying it off on time to build good credit. They should also know how to save for things they want, put money aside for emergencies, give to charity, and how to get the best deal.
How to get dressed
Ok, they are well past the time of needing you to pick out their clothes and tie their shoes – hopefully (if not, you have quite a bit of catching up to do). But they will need to learn how to wash their clothes regularly so that they actually have something to wear. And no, buying new clothes is not an alternative way to do laundry. Teens will need to learn about when to use the Hot Cycle, and when to wash it in Cold. And to ensure their whites don’t turn pink or their lights become dingy, they can use a lesson in separating colors as well. Other important skills are how to sew a button or mend a rip, how to iron, how to fold and put away their clothes, how to treat stains, the importance of reading clothing labels, how to hand wash, and even how to best pack a suitcase (for all those trips back home to, ahem, do their laundry).
How to have respect…
…for everyone, but particularly for their housemates. Sure, they may be used to leaving their dishes around, a clothing trail from the door to their room, and the toilet paper roll empty when they’re done doing their business. And why shouldn’t they when MOM is there to pick up after them? But Mom’s not at college, and I guarantee their housemates aren’t going to be too keen on seeing Jr’s dishes left in the sink. A friend of mine told me of the time that he left his dishes in the sink one too many times, and finally his roommate did clear them out – by dumping them in his bed. So for your child’s sake, and for their roommate, teach them how to do their own dishes, how to keep the noise levels down, common courtesy when it comes to guests in the room, and leaving OPP (other people’s property) alone as well as having boundaries in place for their own property.
How to be organized
If your teen would like to flunk out in the first semester, the best bet would be to skip keeping a calendar and to lose every piece of paper or information that comes their way. For everyone else, a calendar is essential. If they have a smart phone, this is the most convenient place to keep it since they are likely attached to this particular piece of technology at all times. Get them in the habit of putting everything in their calendar and referring to it regularly. Another good habit for teens to get into before college is to create a filing system to hold all their assignment needs, bills, and any important document they may need to refer to later. Not sure? Place it in the filing system just in case.
…deal when sick, what to do or who to call if there’s an emergency (and have those numbers programmed in their phone), how to lock the front door behind them, how to fill their gas tank, how to understand their health or car insurance…and how to understand the many risks that are going to be in front of them.
College is, for many teens, their first real experience away from parents. This means that it’s their first brush with responsibility. It also means it’s their first time without someone there to say no. Now would be a good time to admit some of the stupid things you have done as a teen, anxiety you may have felt about being away for the first time, struggles you went through with a college schedule, and even the great parts about college life. Sharing your good and bad experiences will help you be able to connect with your teen on a deeper level, and maybe even help them avoid some of the hard parts. Of course, in the end they’re the ones who get to make the final decision. And some of their decisions might not be the best despite your most valiant of efforts to steer them on a certain path. And that’s when you also need to make it clear that no matter what, you’re there for them if they need it.