10 Skills to Teach Your Teen Before College

Judy Dutton | Oct 21, 2014 Tweens & Teens

If you've got a high schooler in the house, you know the clock is ticking until they finally fly the coop! That also means your teen will soon be largely on his own ... a scary thought. But it doesn't have to be, provided you've equipped them with the practical skills they need to live like a civilized human being. Remember: the tasks that seem second nature to you -- cooking, writing a formal email, saying "thanks but no thanks" -- may feel completely foreign to your kid. So make sure to teach your high schooler these 10 essential skills before you send them out into the world to save yourself decades of worry (and bags of dirty laundry) down the road.

Skills every high schooler should know

What skills do you think teens should know before heading off to college?


Images © Peathegee Inc/Blend Images/Corbis; © iStock.com/Sadeugra

  • How to Write a Professional Email


    Image © Andy Smith/Corbis

    Unless you want your teen writing, "Yo, wassup?" in emails to professors, potential employers for summer jobs, and other adults he's trying to impress, make sure he knows how to write in a more formal manner when it counts, says Adi Bittan, founder of OwnerListens. Show your kid some sample letters or this funny video on how to NOT write a letter to drive your point home. 

  • How to Cook a Few Meals


    Image © cultura/Corbis

    Unless you want your teen subsisting on ramen and Chinese takeout, you'd better teach your teen a few simple recipes. Just pick a few easy-to-make meals he loves, from pasta to omelets to garlic chicken. Consider giving your teen a cookbook as a going away present, like The Three Ingredient Cookbook, with recipes even a kitchen neophyte with a limited pantry can handle.

  • How to Manage Their Time


    Image © cultura/Corbis

    "With many students being used to having their parents 
keep track of every single thing they need done, students typically come to college 
without a sense of time or urgency," says Latoya Jefferson, who worked five years for the University System of Maryland and saw many college kids struggling. In college, courses may last only a few hours a day; how they spend the rest of their time is up to them -- so it's easy to slide into Grand Theft Auto marathons. So make sure your child has a system for tracking when assignments and projects are due. Get them a large desk calendar (or even just iCal or some other programs on their laptop) that will allow them to account for their time and get stuff done so they aren't cramming at the last minute. 

  • How to Complete Paperwork


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    Filling out medical forms, applications, and other paperwork may seem tedious to you, but it's downright overwhelming to a teenager who's never done it before -- especially if they don't know their basic info like their Social Security number. "Most students 
are used to handing their mom or dad the paperwork to complete or they are
 used to having a parent over their shoulder telling them what to write in an
 application," says Jefferson. "To help your child
 learn how to complete forms and applications, practice with scholarship
 applications and when you are taking them to the doctor. Let them complete 
the form alone and you review for accuracy."

  • How Much (And When) to Tip


    Odds are up to this point, your teen has left the dull business of tipping waiters, hairdressers, cabbies, and other service professions to you. Well, they'll start getting a lot of dirty looks if they don't now how to do it themselves! So give them the deets: Generally 15% is a good rule of thumb for waiters, taxi drivers, hairdressers; food delivery 10%, coatroom attendants and valets $1-2.

  • How to Do Laundry


    Image © Simon Marcus/Corbis

    There's a reason kids drive home with bags of dirty laundry: They're in the dark about darks and lights, hot or cold, how to fold clothes so they aren't wrinkled wads, or what's the deal with high efficiency detergent. So make sure they know what's up, and consider sending them a care package with those little pre-measured laundry pods, which eliminates the whole "how much of this detergent do I use anyway?" conundrum. 

  • How to Negotiate Conflicts


    Image © Blend Images/Corbis

    Odds are once your teens moves out, he'll have roommates, and conflicts will be inevitable. Only your kid's typical tactics for solving disputes with siblings -- i.e., wrestling matches until one side caves or screams for mom to step in and mediate -- well, that just doesn't fly once you're an adult on your own. So coach your teen on how to address issues in a non-offensive way. For instance: "Hey, I noticed you're leaving your dirty dishes in the common area; could you please try to put those away?" rather than "God you're such a slob! Get those dishes outta here!"  

  • How to Properly Manage Money


    Image © Onoky/Corbis

    This includes a bank account, credit cards, and the whole "don't spend what you don't have" concept. "While most parents typically provide an allowance for their child,
 the child still doesn't understand what it means to put money away for a 
rainy day," says Jefferson. "In college, rainy days and fun nights happen more often and
 parents will start to see money disappearing." So if your teen doesn't have a savings account, have them start one, today. "New credit card laws have cracked down on credit cards for college
 students, so be sure to explain how credit works, and if you do allow them 
to get a credit card, contact the company to set limits on the card issued 
to your child," Jefferson adds.

  • How to Say No


    Image © iStock.com/ejwhite

    College kids will have a lot of requests flying at them: "Want a beer?" "Want a puff?" "Want to come back to my room and, um, hang out?" We forget that when we're young, it can feel awkward to simply say no -- so it's crucial to make sure your kid doesn't cave just to seem cool or avoid rocking the boat. Drive home that a firm "no, thank you" with a smile will make you proud.

  • How to Ask for Help


    Image © Hiya Images/Corbis

    Sure, you've been your child's lifelong mentor for umpteen years, but it can't go on that way forever. As such, it's indispensable that your child isn't shy about asking for help from others. So tell your kids that it's good to ask for advice from college advisors or professors on whether they should drop a class, if a major is right for them, or even more personal questions they might encounter. Because let's face it -- no one's peering over your teens' shoulder anymore. If they want help, they have to ask. So encourage them to lean on the new adults in their life when they need some wise advice.


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