Preparing for Independence

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Many teens look forward to making the transition from high school (and the watchful eyes of their parents) to university life. Some naively may believe they are well-equipped to handle the demands and rigor of being on their own. Unfortunately, their high school prep classes focused primarily on academic content and basic study strategies, and unless their parents have been actively engaged in demonstrating valuable life skills, many may find themselves shocked when finally entering the “real world.”

If you are the parent of a junior or senior, here are some of the skills teens should have before graduating — so make this year count!

1. Managing a budget. For many teens, managing their money involves asking a parent for a few bucks to fund their weekend social plans. As a result, they believe money flows from a never-ending source. Help your teen maintain and balance a personal budget by providing only limited funds and teach what items are necessities, versus wants. Also, help him or her realize how much he or she actually can afford based on what’s in the wallet. Education on the purpose and responsible use of credit cards also is essential.

2. Managing time. Developing and maintaining a regular routine is key to a well-balanced lifestyle. Identifying what priorities/activities need to occur and how long these activities take can help teens gradually bring a sense of organization to their lives. Your teen can learn to organize her social calendar around her daily activities (school, homework and a part-time job) is one way she can learn how to manage her time. Encourage her to attend a social activity, but remind her she must consider travel time to and from, preparation time in order to not leave or arrive late … including if the car needs gas before she uses it).

3. Basic cooking/laundry/cleaning. Every teen should be self-sufficient about meeting certain basic needs. They should know how to make simple, nutritious meals. Also, help your teen learn the basic steps of laundry, including how often to do it! (Changing bed sheets once a quarter is stretching it just a bit.) Help your child learn how to incorporate cleaning, organizing and doing laundry into his daily/weekly living schedule.

4. Social skills. There are numerous opportunities in high school that allow teens to learn how to communicate with peers and with authority figures. How to effectively introduce herself to someone new, talk with a teacher or administrator and negotiate conflict resolution are just three basic social skills you teen needs for life after high school.

5. Self-advocacy. Once a teen becomes an independent young adult, there is a transition from relying on parents to serve as advocates to becoming one’s own advocate. Teach your child what her rights and responsibilities are and how to articulate what she needs and stand up for herself.

6. Employment. Navigating the job market is a daunting task, even for the most seasoned employee. Encouraging your teen to complete an application or create a resume can help ease the anxieties of taking the first steps into the job market. Participating in practice interviews and being able to describe his skills set can provide your teen with a brief lesson on what to do and say when he enters the interview experience. Depending on your teen’s schedule, perhaps he may want to consider a part-time internship or job. Real-life experience at juggling academic, social and work schedules and help them learn how to prioritize and maximize their time to their benefit, while providing them with a real-world experience.  If they don’t want an “official” job, consider baby-sitting or “employing” your teen around the house to do additional/extra chores around the house for extra money.

Melinda Harper, Ph.D., teaches psychology at Queens University of Charlotte. Her private practice at Charlotte Psychotherapy & Consultation Group focuses on children and adolescents.