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Life Skills for Teens: Academics Are Not Enough for Success as an Adult

Life Skills for Teens

Maybe your student has excellent study skills—he scores solid grades and aces standardized tests. But does he work well with others? Does he communicate effectively? Is he dependable? Don’t overlook the importance of these “soft” life skills for teens which they will need to thrive outside the classroom. There are many life skills to learn.

Soft skills are attributes that help determine how we approach our work and also how we work with others. Many students, even those with great transcripts, leave high school without understanding the importance of such skills, which experts say can make life easier in college and lead to more success in the workplace.

For instance, they may not know how to communicate effectively in any format outside their favorite social media platform, says Cecilia Castellano, vice provost for strategic enrollment planning at Bowling Green State University.

“They don’t like to pick up the phone or answer a phone call,” says Castellano. “You can’t communicate everything in a text message or a Snapchat.”

Soft Life Skills Will Lead to More Success at Work

Life skills take practice, but a lack of them can make success harder to come by, says Dru Tomlin of the Association of Middle Level Education.

“They may have a great idea, but if they don’t have project management skills and time management skills, then their wonderful team-based idea will never get off the ground,” he says.

Most employers value life skills as much as concrete skills like research or computer programming, according to a 2014 Harris Poll for the employment site Careerbuilder. In the survey, soft and hard skills were equally important to 77 percent of employers, while 16 percent said they prized soft skills even more highly than the tangible talents that commonly pack a resumé. Schools can help or hinder students when it comes to mastering soft skills, Tomlin says.

“If a student is forced to sit in a desk all day in isolation, doing repetitive worksheets that merely focus on rote memory or fact regurgitation, then his or her ability to learn soft skills is greatly inhibited,” Tomlin says. “That kind of learning, which is sometimes done in the name of rigor and high test scores, does not help the development of soft skills for teens.”

By contrast, programs that encourage collaboration, project-based learning, interdisciplinary instruction, and service learning often boost soft skills.

So, how can you help develop the soft skills for your teens that they will need to succeed on a college campus and beyond?

Share your experience with life skills.

Talk about life skills you use every day, like time management or problem solving, when working with a boss or client. Discuss your challenges as well as successes, advises Tomlin. With guidance, young teens can practice skills like collaboration and communication with siblings, friends, and teammates.

Step back.

Let your teen advocate for herself beginning in middle school. By high school, she should connect independently with her teachers, be responsible for assignments, and try to resolve any conflicts that arise with her school work.

So, if the printer runs out of ink when a term paper is due, resist the urge to send an excuse to the teacher. If you let your teen handle it, she’ll learn responsibility, communication, and negotiation skills, Castellano says.

“I think sometimes as parents we want to go ahead and take care of everything and fix it, but the parents aren’t going to be there when the student is in college.”

Offer opportunities.

“Teens can also learn these soft skills through a team, organization, club, or activity where there’s personal interaction, you’re held accountable, and you’re part of a unit,” says Castellano.

And don’t underestimate part-time and summer jobs that build soft skills for teens like time management, punctuality, and customer service.

Answering to a boss also forces teens to practice these important skills with an authority figure who isn’t a parent, adds Tomlin. Even a first job in a hardware store or fast food joint offers opportunities to learn many soft skills.

“When they go to do a job, they’re not just punching the time clock and getting paid,” says Tomlin. “They’re developing great tools for life.”


Life Skills List for Teenagers: Soft Skills Employers Want:

  1. Excellent work ethic
  2. Dependable
  3. Positive attitude
  4. Self-motivated
  5. Team-oriented
  6. Organized
  7. Works well under pressure
  8. Effective communicator
  9. Flexible and adaptable
  10. Confident

Mary Helen Berg

Mary Helen Berg is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, Scary Mommy, and many other publications.