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Teach Your Children Well

12 Skills for Every Teen

When my children were small, all a jumble of pudgy hands and runny noses, it seemed I would be surrounded forever by ankle biters demanding minute-by-minute maintenance. But then one day, I turned around in the kitchen to see teenage boys towering over me. Their pending adulthood quietly settled a hand on my shoulder and I had to face the gruesome reality that they weren’t long under my roof, in my care.

As I watch their steady advance toward the front door, I question whether I’ve prepared them for what lies waiting, jaws agape, on the other side. Thus, I’ve taken inventory of what they need to know before they go.

1. How To Write a Letter and Address an Envelope

It may seem silly or even unnecessary, but in this digital age of 140-character tweets and misspelled texts, we seldom communicate through old-fashioned, hand-written, snail-mailed notes. And it’s exactly that detachment from the old-fashioned letter that has infused it with perceived genuine sincerity. It takes more effort to write and mail a letter, and potential employers and in-laws will be impressed when receiving a well-composed thank-you note for the interview or dinner invitation in a properly addressed envelope.

2. How To Cook a Few Healthy, Budget-Friendly Meals

Fried baloney and boxed macaroni and cheese won’t satisfy for long. “Teaching basic cooking is a survival skill just like teaching children to read and write. We have to eat, and what we eat impacts our health and future successes,” says Kim Beavers, a registered dietician at University Hospital. She suggests inviting your kids to cook with you so that they gain comfort in the kitchen. Arm them with culinary confidence and the ability to prepare an easy pasta recipe, simple steamed or sautéed vegetables, a fish or chicken dish, a soup, chili or casserole, and a quick stir-fry.

3. How To Manage Money

“One of the best things you can give your kids isn’t money,” says Jeff Fehrman of Fehrman Investment Group, “it’s how to work with money.”

Teens need the opportunity to hone their understanding of and skills related to budgeting, saving, investing, financing, balancing a checkbook, comparison shopping and protecting their credit rating. “The key is making kids responsible for their money with guardrails on it,” says Fehrman. “You’ve got to know your child and give him or her latitude based on that.” In other words, every teen needs a way to earn money, whether being paid for completing household chores or for an afterschool/summer job, so that she can practice managing it.

Adult supervision and assistance with opening small savings, investment and checking accounts and making large and small purchases can lay the foundation for a lifetime of financial security.

4. How To Read and Understand an Apartment/House Lease

The last thing I want to see on my sofa 10 years from now is grown men watching daytime television with one hand in their waistbands and the other holding a can of Steel Reserve. My offspring are going to have to find a place of their own.

Zane Leiden, an attorney with the firm Leiden & Leiden, says, “Getting your own place is a rite of passage for many adults (and a blessing to many parents), but there are pitfalls in the standard lease that can trap the unwary.”

Primary details they should know to read for are the duration, terms regarding subletting, renewal and cancellation policies and security deposit recovery. Advise your older teen or young adult child to carefully select roommates as well, because if a disgruntled roommate moves out or refuses to pay the rent, your child may have to make up the difference and may be evicted if it isn’t paid. Likewise, if your child moves out before the lease is up, he is still contractually obligated to pay his portion of the rent.

5. How To Properly Use the Internet, Social Media and Texting

While technology has created new research, business and marketing strategies, horror stories abound of colleges that revoked a student’s acceptance and employers who didn’t hire (or fired) an applicant because of something posted to the individual’s blog, YouTube, FaceBook or Twitter account. Young people live in the present and generally lack the wisdom to stop and consider future ramifications of their actions.

Laura Johnson, director of college counseling at Augusta Preparatory Day School, frequently reminds students that their on-line activities today can impact the rest of their lives. “The Internet and electronic devices give young people a false sense of security in as much as they don’t really feel like they are saying or doing things because they are hidden behind a phone or computer screen,” she ays. Anything posted on the Internet remains there forever, somewhere, in some form. Johnson says, “Everything they do on the internet should be consistent with the person they and their families believe they are and want them to become.”

6. How To Keep House

It’s time your teen learns that the toilet-bowl brush is not a magic wand. Dirty clothes don’t wash and fold themselves and climb back into the chest of drawers. Fairies don’t clean the kitchen. As my friend and mother of three, Lisa Spivey, phrases it, “A parent’s growing resentment of doing things for her kids is nature’s way of helping a mother to get her kids to do things for themselves.” Even if you have a housekeeper, your child probably won’t when he first sets out independently. Put your foot down and pass out the dusting cloths.

7. How To Maintain an Automobile

I think this one is particularly important for girls. My daddy had always taken care of my car for me, so when I left home for college I had no idea that the oil had to be checked or changed. I did not realize that the treads on tires wore down. And the jumper cables were only in my car because they’d always been in my car, not because I knew what to do with them. But a well-maintained auto is a safe auto, and a person who knows what to do when the battery dies or the tire loses air is a safe driver.

“The time to learn about your car is not when you’re stranded on the roadside,” says Joanna Newton, spokesperson for AAA. “It puts you at the mercy of whoever stops to help. It’s not safe and it’s not financially advantageous.” AAA has a new Web site for teens and parents,, that provides maintenance schedules and other useful information. “A young person going out on his own should really know his car and take ownership of it.” says Newton.

8. How To Respectfully End a Relationship

Yes, yes, your dear sweet-something will break someone’s heart and have his heart broken. Jennifer Hancock gives straightforward advice on this topic in her book, The Humanist Approach to Happiness: Practical Wisdom. She says, “If you are the heartbreaker, be honest and compassionate with the person you are letting down. If you are the one having your heart broken, accept the reality that your relationship is over.”

The straight-forward approach to ending a friendship or romance may seem harsh to the tender heart of a teenager, but it’s the best way to make a clean break and avoid a false sense of hope that the relationship will resume. Hurt feelings about the termination of the friendship or romance are normal, but it’s inappropriate to spill damaging secrets shared in confidence or lash out using threats.

9. How To Read a Map

Though we live in a global, high-tech world, there are still many places where GPS devices don’t pick up a signal. Teach your teen the tried-and-true way for getting from one place to another. You’ll sleep better knowing you’ve given her the tools to return home again when she sets out to find herself in places she’s never been.

10. How To Extend Social Courtesies

Face it. The teen years are a parent’s last chance to say, “Take your elbows off the table. Put your napkin in your lap. Chew with your mouth closed.” Max out on the opportunity, even if your teenager accuses you of nagging.

Manners, not just at the table, but in general, not only demonstrate the caliber of person your kid is, but also that he or she is aware of and respectful of others. Young adults should leave home knowing basic table manners, appropriate attire for various occasions, how to engage in convivial small talk with persons of all ages, how to order from a menu, especially when someone else is paying, when and how to acknowledge another person (such as standing when she enters the room or pulling out her chair at the table) and how to accept a kindness (such as saying thank you when someone opens a door for her).

11. How To Ask for Help

In their eagerness to show that they can make it on their own young adults may forget that they don’t have to do everything all by themselves. “One of the best things parents can do is to model this behavior. When children see adults asking for help, it tells them that this is what you do if you can’t do it all yourself,” says Ray Erickson, author of Ten Tips to Tame Your Teen: Strategies that Work. In the teen years, parents can steer their child in recognizing when he or she needs help, identifying the right person to ask for help and phrasing the request for help.

12. How To Fail Gracefully

No matter how well we prepare our teens to take on the world, at some point they will fall flat on their faces and wallow in self-doubt. What they do next will reveal a great deal about their character and resilience.

“To fail gracefully means to accept and acknowledge that despite good intentions and hard work success was unobtainable. To fail gracefully is to let go and move forward. It means one is able to refocus and rethink other options, other ways of reaching specific goals,” says Dr. Jennifer A. Powell-Lunder, Psy.D., co-author of Teenage as a Second Language. Accepting failure rather than responding to it with negative emotions empowers a young person to take a lesson from it and apply that lesson to future endeavors, improving the chances of success.

Lucy Adams lives in Thomson, Ga., with her husband and four children. She is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run.

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