Before you know it, your teenager will leave home. So, take the opportunity now to teach your teenager some critical life skills. Like laundry, how to shop for groceries, and some basic first aid, here are some things every teenager should know before leaving home.
1. Asking for what you need
Before teens launch from home, they should learn to start being their own advocates. In fact, when it comes to life skills for teens, self-advocacy is at the top of our list. If your teen can understand their own needs and emotions, learn to speak up, and act to ensure that their needs are met, they will have more of a sense of control over their circumstances and gain self-confidence in their ability to make good decisions for themselves. Here’s an easy way to help your teenager develop this skill: When they need to interact with an adult—a teacher, health-care provider, coach—encourage them to take the lead.
2. Basic first aid
Your teenager should know a few health basics so they don’t have to call you for every sniffle. Now—before they leave home—is the time to teach them how to deal with a minor burn, fever, or common cold. Discuss with them more serious symptoms and when they should seek medical assistance. These include, but are not limited to, a fever that does not respond to medication (like Tylenol or Motrin); a fever that spikes above 103° F; or a sudden onset of fever and severe pain when bending your neck forward. (Ask your primary care doctor for other symptoms of an emergency.)
3. How to get from one place to another independently
Your college student will need to fly alone for the first time, navigate a city subway system, or find a building on an unfamiliar campus. Set your teen loose in high school, and have them learn to get places on their own. Ask them to give you directions describing how to get somewhere. Ask your teen to drive when you go out. Show them how to use an app (like Google Maps or Transit).
4. When and how to make a phone call
Picking up the phone and making an appointment instead of relying on your mom to do it is a necessary skill. By the time your teenager is a junior or senior in high school, they should do the important stuff for themselves—doctor’s appointments, haircuts, oil changes—the kinds of appointments they’ll need to make at college and beyond. Teens don’t like talking on the phone, but it’s a vital skill. Go over basics such as identifying yourself, speaking slowly and clearly, using proper phone etiquette, and being an attentive listener.
5. How to do laundry
It’s time to roll up your sleeves and make sure your teenager can do laundry before they’re on their own. Help your teenager out a few times, then step back and—here’s the hard part—don’t step back in.
6. What to do in an emergency
A few years ago, two college roommates called their parents, not 911, when their house caught on fire. We need to help our teenagers understand what to do in a life-threatening emergency. This one’s easy: Call 911. But teenagers should also know how to handle more mundane home emergencies, which, while not life-threatening, could cause serious damage (for example, how to shut off the water).
7. Communications etiquette
Your teen needs to know how to write an appropriate email, with correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Teens should also be able to write a formal letter, including a cover letter. Teenagers also need to know how and when to write a thank you note. In addition, they should remember that human contact still matters, and that there are some situations where people still need to discuss things face-to-face (like an apology).
8. Knowing how (and when) to dress appropriately
With limited experience in professional settings, many teens don’t understand the importance of dressing appropriately for certain adult-world interactions. In these kinds of situations, teenagers should dress like they believe the adults will be dressed. When in doubt, err on the conservative side. If business casual is the designated dress code, for guys, that means an ironed, button-down shirt, dark pants, and polished dress shoes. Young women should go with a tailored dress, a skirt (not too short), and blouse, or tailored pants and a button-down shirt.
9. Cooking and grocery shopping
Before they leave home, show your teenager a few cooking basics to help them save money and prepare healthy meals. Teach them how to shop, compare prices, and read labels. Make up a list of a few simple meals, and cook them together. Go over food safety basics, such as how to handle raw meat and clean utensils and counters.
10. Basic personal safety
Teach teenagers how to be savvy of their surroundings and start preparing them now for campus safety. Remind your teenager not to walk around campus or a big city texting or with earbuds in. Teenagers should also walk with others at night, including to and from the library or wherever else. At many colleges, students can ask campus security for an escort late at night.
Teenagers should understand “safe” party rules, including asking friends to look out for each other (and each other’s drinks). Last, but hardly least, remember cyber-security is also important. Tell your teenager never to share passwords and also not to check bank and other financial accounts on public WiFi (unless you use an app like ntrepidcorp.com, which prevents others nearby from easily stealing financial data over the public Wi-Fi system).