7 Life Skills Your Child Needs to Have by High School
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By the time your son or daughter is ready to head off to high school, they should be able to independently handle the basics of their own care. By helping them become self-sufficient in these essential tasks, you’re allowing them to gain confidence and self-worth. No child wants to be dependent on mom or dad for the basic functions of life. Don’t let your kid’s willingness to let you take care of them keep them from becoming a self-reliant young adult.
"We've gotten ourselves worked up into a frothy frenzy about grades and scores in high school, and further into college, and we sort of treat our kids' childhood as if every day, every quiz, every afternoon is a make or break moment for their future," says Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and author of "How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success."
As adults watch in amazement at the ability of young children to adapt to this new "language," educators like J. Paul Gibson are working behind the scenes to prepare preschoolers and kindergarten-aged kids to be at ease with every aspect of computer technology. It should come as no surprise that Gibson, from the National University of Ireland, is using a game like tic-tac-toe to teach kids how to see a problem and solve it through coding.
"We feel the stakes are high, and therefore we must help, but the stakes are low in childhood compared to what they will be in college, and what they'll really be in the world beyond."
Here are seven essential life skills that your teen should be able to do by the time they head to high school:
1. Wake themselves up on time.
By the time your child is heading off to high school, they should be able to self-sufficiently wake up, get dressed in clothing that's clean, and get out the door on time. If you are your child’s alarm clock you are doing them a huge disservice. If you convince them out of bed, cajole them down to breakfast, and then drive them to school at a break-neck pace so they aren’t late, you’re making them dependent on you for a necessary piece of every day or the rest of their adult life. You won’t be there when they’re 25 to get them to work on time. Lythcott-Haims heard from a colleague at a major university that a freshman’s parent had installed a webcam in their dorm room to wake him up. "That's a parenting fail," she says.
2. Do laundry.
When teaching teens basic chores like laundry, we have to be careful not to be snippy and make them feel bad about not knowing how to do it yet. Instead, show them the ropes, watch them do it themselves once to make sure they've got it, and then let them handle it on their own.
3. Make a meal.
Your high schooler should be able to make themselves a healthy breakfast in the morning, and by all means, they should be preparing their own lunch the night before. I’m not suggesting that you stop cooking entirely for your high schooler, but you (and they!) should feel confident that they won’t starve if you have to leave for work early, or if you decide to go out to dinner with a colleague.
4. Advocate for themselves.
Most of us have heard the stories of parents calling college professors to complain about their kids' grades, right? This is bad news in high school, too. Instead of emailing your child’s teacher and/or stepping in on their behalf, teach your child how to have a conversation with an authority figure and advocate for themselves. Prepare them to listen well to what the other person is saying and understand it might not go their way.
Talk them through the potential conversation if they’re struggling. Offer suggestions and let them put it in their own words. Offer support and guidance but STAY HOME. This is a path they need to learn to walk alone. You won’t be there to talk to their boss or future spouse.
5. Pack their own bag.
This isn’t just for trips. Do you find yourself chasing after your Tween to hand them their lunch, homework, permission slip, fill-in-the-blank here? Worse, have you driven back home and to school to deliver a forgotten assignment or musical instrument? If your child never has the consequence of their own forgetfulness, they’ll never prioritize taking a minute to gather themselves and what they need for the day as they walk out the door.
Your child needs to learn the necessary skill of asking themselves, “what do I need today? Wallet? Check. Homework? Check. Water bottle? Check.” It will be a lifelong skill.
6. Order at restaurants.
We as parents tend to order for the table, more often than not while our kids are engrossed in whatever electronic device they’ve brought along to make it through the 20 minutes between being seated and eating. It’s time to stop.
High schoolers should be able to make their own healthy restaurant dining choices and politely communicate that order to the server. Remind them to look the server in the eye, be polite, communicate their request, and say, "thank you."
It won’t be long before they’re dining out solo, or with friends, a coworker or a significant other. It’s important that you help them learn how not to be that entitled jerk that can’t manage to be polite to wait staff.
7. Grocery Shopping
It’s time to communicate with your teenager about how stores are laid out. Have they noticed the signs above the aisles? Could they find apples, milk and bread? It’s time you let them loose on the scavenger hunt that is grocery shopping. Start small with a list of 7-8 things. Hand them a hand basket, or turn them loose with a cart, and grab yourself a coffee and some Facebook time at the deli. You’ll have the chance to check their work soon enough and a new source of help the next time you need to make it through grocery shopping in a hurry.
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