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10 Things to Teach Teenagers Before They Leave Home

Before you know it, your teenager will be leaving the nest. 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 our Top 10 life skills for teens.

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 his own needs and emotions, learn to speak up for himself, and act to ensure that his needs are met, he will have more of a sense of control over his circumstances and gain self-confidence in his ability to make good decisions for himself. Here’s an easy way to help your teenager develop this skill: When she needs to interact with an adult — a teacher, health-care provider, etc. — encourage her to take the lead.

2) BASIC FIRST AID

Your teenager should know a few health basics so she doesn’t have to call you for every sniffle. Now is the time to teach her how to deal with a minor burn, fever, or common cold. Discuss with them more serious symptoms and when it may be appropriate to 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.

3) GETTING AROUND

Your college student will need to fly alone for the first time, navigate a city subway system, get an Uber, 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 him how to use an app (like Google Maps or Transit).

4) PHONE SKILLS

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, she should do the important stuff for herself — doctor’s appointments, haircuts, oil changes — the kinds of appointments she’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) LAUNDRY

It’s time to roll up your sleeves and make sure your son can do laundry before he’s on his 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

Did you hear about the college roommates who 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) DRESSING PROFESSIONALLY

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 he leaves home, show your teenager a few cooking basics to help him save money and prepare healthy meals for himself. Teach him 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 Wi-Fi (unless you use an app like Anonymizer.com, which prevents others nearby from easily stealing financial data over the public Wi-Fi system).