Teens and Life Skills

A friend and I were talking a couple of weeks ago, and she told me about an experience she had with a babysitter the weekend before.

She and her husband were going out at night and asked a teenager to babysit their nine-year-old daughter. The daughter had not had dinner, so my friend got out a few canned items, put them on the counter, and told the babysitter to heat those up when the little girl got hungry.

When she got home, the cans were still on the counter. Worried her daughter had not eaten dinner, she asked the babysitter, “Did she eat dinner?” The babysitter told her that her daughter had, indeed, eaten dinner, but she gave her something else, because...she…did…not…know…how…to…open…the…cans. 

We had a good laugh about it, but it made me think: does my own 15-year-old daughter know how to open a can? That afternoon, when my daughter got home from sports practice, I asked her, “Do you know how to use a can opener?” She assured me she did. Hmmm…. I took her into the kitchen so she could prove it to me. And she did. Whew!

When she was younger, we once had a housekeeper who wouldn’t let our daughter do anything for herself: put on her shoes; get dressed…she was two or three…old enough to put on her own slip-on shoes, but the housekeeper would always run over and try to help her. She could do it fine when the housekeeper wasn’t around! It drove me insane! If that housekeeper had remained with us, our daughter might not know how to do anything!

I know people have their own ideas about what teens need to know before they graduate from high school. I’m not even going to look at anyone else’s online list, but I’m going to share my own ideas with you.

  • Use a can opener to open a can. Obviously.
  • Crack an egg and scramble it. If you can’t cook anything else, this one is essential, preferably without eggshells in it.
  • First Aid. Know how to stop/treat bleeding; recognize if you need stitches; How to make a temporary sling; recognize serious illness (appendicitis, heart attack, etc.); treat a bloody nose; treat a bee sting. It’s also very important to know how to operate an Epipen; you never know when you will be the only one who knows how to do it in an emergency!
  • Heimlich maneuver. This is an important one. I’ve known several people who have been saved by it. They also need to know how to perform the Heimlich on themselves in case they are alone and choking.
  • Escape a burning building. It’s important to know to stay low and move swiftly. Don’t open a door if it feels hot to the touch. And more…
  • Budget. It can be difficult to budget. When I was first out of college and making very little money, it was all about choices. I learned to pay essentials first, set some money aside for saving, and make good choices about what I wanted to do. Sometimes, I had to pass on some things I wanted to do.
  • Write a check. Check-writing is rare these days, but it is a necessary life skill. By the time our teenagers are in their 30s, checks might be obsolete, but for now, they need to know how to write a check. It’s also important to know how to do banking transactions: deposits, withdrawals, transfers, etc.
  • Check the oil in an automobile and add engine oil. You don’t want your child to find herself 200 miles from home with the “add engine oil” light on in her car, but if she does, you want her to know what to do.
  • Put gas in a car. One would think this is obvious, but in New Jersey, it’s illegal to pump your own gas, so I wonder what happens to those people when they get to another state? Years ago, I knew a woman whose husband had always pumped gas into her car for her. While that’s gallant (my husband takes my car to fill it up regularly), it’s important to know how to pump gas.
  • Negotiate new cities (without fear). This is not an innate skill. It is one that is acquired by experience, and it is crucial for survival, if your child plans to do any travel. I learned it as a teen.
  • Swim. Yes, everyone needs to know how to swim. It doesn’t have to be pretty.
  • Pack a suitcase. Someone once told me about an adult (over 40) whose mother packed her suitcase for a vacation. While I hate packing, I know how to do it. I’ve been doing it since my first trip to Disney world when I was six. My daughter hates it too, but she has been packing her own suitcase since she was about seven or eight. *She went on an adventure trip to Iceland last summer, and someone who “had the inside scoop” insisted on packing for her, and I was OK with it, because we know nothing about wilderness packing…and frankly, we don’t need to know.* It’s not likely she’ll do another trip like that again…she is her mother’s daughter and likes nice hotels.
  • Iron a shirt/pants. I can iron just about anywhere…a floor, a bed, a countertop. I grew up ironing, and I actually enjoy it. Need some ironing done? Invite me over, and if you’ll chat me up, I’ll catch up all your ironing…just ask my friend, Angela, whose ironing I’ve done before! My teen daughter knows how to iron. She also knows how to use a steamer to release wrinkles from her clothes.
  • Check in for flights at the airport. People need to know how to make sure their bags have name tags on them; check in; get boarding passes; check bags; clear airport security; find their gate; change planes; stow baggage on planes; and retrieve their bags at their destination. They also need to know how to get ground transportation.
  • How to cross a city street on foot. Kids who don’t live in urban areas don’t learn how to cross city streets on foot unless they have some practice doing it. It’s a life skill.
  • How to tip. Living in the US, it’s important to know how/when to tip. They need to know how much to tip in different situations and when to tip. My daughter does her own tipping at restaurants with friends. I now encourage her to do some of the tipping at the airport (skycaps) and hotels (bellman, valet, doorman, housekeeping),  so she will become comfortable with it.
  • Clean a toilet. You don’t have to enjoy it, but you have to do it.
  • Vacuum.
  • Use a plunger in a toilet. Definitely need to know how to do this. It’s not fun, but it’s essential.
  • Repair a hem. I don’t care if she uses hemming tape, but it needs to work.
  • Sew a button onto a shirt/jacket/pants, etc. When I was fresh out of college, I worked as a flight attendant. I arrived at a hotel one night to realize one of the buttons was falling off my blouse. The hotel had a sewing kit, and I re-attached the button with ease. Not everyone can do it. Teach your children.
  • General safety. Safest places to park. Be aware of surroundings. How to know if you’re being followed, and what to do if you are. What to do if you’re approached by a stranger. The necessity of locating emergency exits in buildings, theaters, hotels (and planes) all the time…especially crowded ones. How to avoid dangerous situations. What to do in active shooter situation.
  • Weather safety. Growing up in Alabama, we had to know what to do in case of a tornado. Even though they are rare where we live, it’s important to know. Know what to do in lightning.
  • Use a bottle opener, a corkscrew, and open a bottle of champagne properly and safely. Sounds basic, I know, but a lot of adults don’t know how to use a corkscrew. And the cork isn’t supposed to fly out of a champagne bottle (dangerous) or make a lot of noise. It’s an art. It’s one they shouldn’t need till they’re over 21, but just in case…they need to know how dangerous a flying champagne cork can be.

I know I’m forgetting some things, so feel free to comment any skills you want to add. I know “change a tire” will be on there, but that one is iffy. While I know how to change a tire, lug nuts are often difficult to remove, and lots of newer cars don’t carry spares. Therefore, it’s important to know how to call for roadside assistance (through the manufacturer or AAA). There are lots of other necessary life skills…recognize an abusive relationship; when to walk away; etc.

Let’s hear your suggestions…



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