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Critical Life Skills Teens (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, yes, how to make sure a bank account isn’t overdrawn. Here are our top 10 life skills for teens.

Top 10 Critical Life Skills for Teens

1. How to ask 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 for themselves, and act to ensure their needs are met, he or she 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 she needs to interact with an adult—a teacher, health-care provider, etc.—let her take the lead.

2. Navigating by themselves

Many teens haven’t paid much, if any, attention to how to get places. Your teen may 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 and have them learn to get places on their own. Use directions in your conversations. Ask them 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 (for walking bicycling, or driving) or Transit (for public transportation).

3. Money management

Being able to manage your own money is a cornerstone of responsible adulthood. Before your child leaves home, your teen should know how to create a budget and stay on it. Teach your child now how to shop wisely, resist impulse purchases, and track their spending.

4. Basic first aid

Your son or daughter should know a few health basics so they don’t have to call you for every sniffle. Now is the time to teach them how to deal with a minor burn, or fever, or common cold. Discuss with them more serious symptoms when it may be appropriate to seek medical assistance.

5. Laundry

It’s time to roll up your sleeves and make sure he 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. Let it go. (Let it go!)

6. Making appointments by phone — and other phone skills

Picking up the phone and making an appointment instead of relying on your mom to do it is a critical life skill. By the time your teenager is a junior or senior in high school, require them to do the important stuff for themselves – doctor’s appointments, haircuts, oil changes – the kinds of appointments he’ll need to make at college and beyond. Teens don’t like talking on the phone, but they need to know how to. Go over basics such as identifying yourself, speaking slowly and clearly, proper phone etiquette, and being an attentive listener.

7. Cooking and grocery shopping basics

Before he leaves home, show your teenager a few cooking basics to help them save money and prepare healthy meals (including lunch) for him or herself. 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.

8. 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? It’s a funny story, but it also highlights the 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!).

9. 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. 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. Teenagers should also know how and when to write a thank you note.

What else are you teaching your teens? Here're more ideas:

10. How to handle a fender bender

Last, but not least, when it comes to top life skills for teens: the fender bender. Go over the basics so your teen knows how to handle himself if he gets into a fender bender away from home. Never chase the other car. Call the police, then wait for them to arrive on the scene. Don’t move the cars, but stay in your car with your seatbelt fastened until police arrive. Take photos of the damage, and exchange insurance information. Tell your parents what happened, especially if you are covered by their insurance policy, so they can help you file an insurance claim.

Jane Parent, former editor at Your Teen, is the parent of three.

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