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How Do Teens Learn Important Life Skills? One Mom Makes it a Priority

My whole family enjoys the leisurely pace of vacations and days off from school. During my years as a high school English teacher, I took advantage of the long stretch of summer vacation to grab some extra sleep. I read books for hours in the backyard and caught up on daytime TV. My teens love trading their harried school schedules filled with basketball practice, late-night homework, and other extracurriculars for some downtime and to work part-time jobs. As a family, we enjoy the extra time we have for catching up on the latest seasons of our favorite shows and watching treasured movies together. My husband and I also love that we get the chance to impart some important life skills that are missed when we’re rushing from place to place. Here are some life skills we’ve taught our kids during school vacation.

5 Life Skills for Teens

1. Teach Your Teens to Drive

One son has his license and the other is preparing for his driving test this fall. With our different strengths and weaknesses, my husband and I tag-team the driving teacher role. We teach them the basics, like parallel parking and managing four-way stops. But also, especially since we live in the city, we take advantage of the more leisurely pace of long school breaks to show our sons routes that avoid heavily-trafficked interstates and we practice navigating on- and off-ramps and lane changes for when they need to travel on busy city highways. We also squeeze in navigating our favorite drive-thrus for fountain drinks or ice cream treats, filling the car with gas, and using Google Maps to get to new destinations. (I try not to bore my kids too much with stories about how my husband and I survived in the world with paper maps.)

2. Shop for Groceries Together

One day during vacation, my son was lounging in front of the TV as I was headed out for my weekly grocery trip, so I invited him along to my local Aldi. To my surprise, he said yes. (When my sons were younger, trips to the store with mom were much more exciting than they are now.)

As we wandered the brightly lit aisles, I took the chance to squeeze in a lesson or two. We talked about tips for picking out the best produce, comparison shopped using servings and sizes, and worked hard to stick to our list for budgeting purposes. Sure, my son talked me into a few extra treats that I didn’t plan for, but, in exchange, I got him ready for the next, more independent stage of his life—even if his future shopping list might include lots of ramen noodles and boxes of macaroni and cheese.

3. Prepare meals together

When my younger son mentioned he wanted to learn some cooking skills over our staycation, I jumped at the chance to teach him this important life skill. We started with mac and cheese from scratch, one of his favorite dishes. Along the way he used some new tools and learned some new jargon: al dente, bechamel, roux. I even threw in a Schitt’s Creek reference as I told him to “fold in the cheese.” While folding and molding, we discussed meal planning and budgeting, too.
We still cook together and that time in the kitchen gives us opportunities to talk about all kinds of topics—the upcoming midterm elections, photos from NASA’s new telescope, and pay discrepancies in the NBA, for example—and share our favorite playlists, too.

4. Remove those tricky laundry stains

When my son came home with a white t-shirt covered in grass stains, we used Google to research the best method for removing them. After some vinegar and OxiClean soaks, we had a sparkling white shirt. As an added bonus, we threw in his favorite white socks that now look brand new.

While both of my sons know some laundry basics, it’s great to build in more advanced skills. If I’m feeling braver, by the end of vacation we might graduate to ironing.

5. Build other life skills

School breaks offer loads of opportunities to teach our teens some of the essential life skills—from depositing a check using a banking app to booking flights online—that we might not have time for during the never-ending hustle and bustle of the school year. Whether you’re helping them plan and prepare an elaborate meal or teaching them how to change the oil in their first car, enjoy the extra time with your teens before they get ready to head out on their own and experience the real world.

Besides all the skill building, make sure to give them days for sleeping in and extra relaxation, too. They’ll be back to the busy school schedule soon enough!

Kimberly Witt is an Iowa transplant placing roots in St. Paul, Minnesota. With the help of her husband, she is raising two amazing teenage sons who were born in Ethiopia. She enjoys writing, running, and (surprisingly) helping her sons with math homework. Find her at