Ideally, we’d send our teenagers into the world as fully functional adults with solid life skills. They’d be able to make wise financial decisions, drive safely, do laundry, clean up, get dinner on the table, and all the other skills we’ve perfected — well, most anyway — at this point in our adult lives.
Ain’t gonna happen! The fact is that teenagers are not adults and won’t be until their mid-20s, so they will continue to learn how to be adults in college and beyond. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some key skills that our teenagers do need when they leave home for college. We asked Nicki Salfer, president of Learning Tree, for her opinion about the top three life skills students should have before they leave for college.
3 Basic Life Skills For Teens
You’ve heard it before, but the ability to deal with set backs is a life skill you do not want your teenager to go to college without having had lots of practice in. And, of course, the only way to get your teenager that practice is to let them handle his own problems and mess ups. “As a parent, our gut reaction is to want to solve problems for them,” notes Salfer. “We’ve got to let them solve it for themselves.”
Instead, Salfer recommends parents model effective problem-solving behavior, in their own lives and in the ways they talk to teenagers. “Don’t jump into the drama,” says Salfer. “Stay calm. Give it a day, then talk about what could have been done differently and help them brainstorm about what to do next.” You can hear more of Salfer’s advice on resilience in this short video.
2. Managing Money
Yes, managing money is a life skill. Teenagers should leave for college knowing how to manage their own money and with experience making their own money. “All kinds of financial conversations need to happen with our teenagers while they are home, but it’s not just conversations,” says Salfer. “We need to also allow them to have some financial control over their lives while they are still at home.”
Salfer recommends parents start by setting up opportunities for teenagers to make money. When they are younger, this can include working around the house. Older teenagers should be expected to get a paying job, either during the summer or after school. “Working is a very big piece of it,”says Salfer. “If they have never gotten a paycheck, you are not doing your child a service.” Learn more about teaching teenagers about money in this short video.
3. Difficult Conversations
“As adults, we have to have difficult conversations sometimes,” says Salfer. “That process of learning how to have critical conversations starts as a child.” And it really can only be learned by parents modeling how to have these conversations.
More often than not, says Salfer, we should be willing to hear our teenagers out when they come to us with something we don’t agree with. “They have a goal in mind. You have a goal in mind. Sometimes it’s not the same goal. Is there a way to compromise?” It’s also important for parents to remain calm when teenagers raise difficult subjects. “Teenagers need to feel that they can talk about things without a parent getting upset. That’s important.” Learn more about one more life skill–how to have tough conversations with teenagers–in this short video: