I think it's fairly uncontroversial to say that parenting teenagers can be challenging. The teenage brain is still evolving, teenagers are very stressed out and anxious, and they can be an absolute nightmare at the dinner table.
And so those of us trying to parent a teenager spend many of our waking hours wondering: how will they ever "graduate" to adulthood? Will they have the life skills they need to succeed as grown ups?
We vaguely know the sorts of things we'd like them to be able to do as responsible adults - which run the gamut from the more practical life skills (how to use an ATM machine, how to get the oil checked and - yes, you guessed it - how to change a lightbulb) to the more abstract life skills (executive function skills, moral integrity, emotional awareness).
If you're like me, you'll read through the lists in the links above and find yourself nodding your head vigorously.
But how, in a person who is biologically, emotionally and socially conditioned to resist our best efforts to impart these skills, do we get them there?
This week's tip list brings a raft of suggestions for teaching life skills to teenagers. To wit:
a. Give Them Responsibility. I was amazed, when reading this article in the Washington Post, at how much of the advice for teaching life skills to teens boils down to this: start giving them responsibility. (I know, I know, duh.) Whether it's about giving your teenager a quarterly clothing budget (to practice managing money), bringing them along to the insurance agent when you add them to your automobile policy (to teach them about handling emergencies) or instructing them in those most basic of skills - how to address an envelope and how to write a check - the advice is that you need to get them going on these small things now.
b. Offer Them Things To Read - A close cousin of the "give them stuff to do" is "give them stuff to read." Of course, not all kids will respond to a reading list, but some (my own, for example) tend to respect advice more when it comes from an expert. I'm a huge fan of adolescent expert Nicola Morgan, whose website is chock full of resources - for parents, for teachers and also for kids themselves - about topics ranging from sleep to exams to stress. On the life skills end of things - since a common one that comes up is learning how to manage time - Nicola has a whole study skills guide for kids.
c. Play Games. If books aren't your kids thing, try games and activities. This site lists "fun" life skills games for adolescents of different ages that gets them working on things from anger management to job hunting to healthy eating. (I want to play the Shhh! game!)
d. Outsource it. You don't need to do it all by yourself, either. There are organizations that specialize in helping teens adjust to adulthood. I was recently at a food allergy clinic with my son and the doctor told us that once my son turns 16, he will join an adolescent clinic where the kids come to get their allergy testing themselves. Because kids with allergies face special risks when it comes to things like alcohol and drugs - (bottom line: you don't want to eat the wrong thing when you're high) - but also with food preparation and consumption, it's important, the doctor said, that my son begin learning how to cook and shop for himself now. They'll start him off with seven "safe" recipes he can make on his own. To which I said: Bring it on...
e. Go with the flow. Finally, if the idea of trying to turn your kid into a responsible adult before s/he is ready doesn't float your boat, exhale deeply and just let go. There's a lot to be said for letting teens be teens and enjoying this period of life for what it is - one of experimentation, fun and creativity - rather than trying to rush them through it. After all, we were teens once too.
How about you? What tactics have worked for you when teaching teenagers life skills and which ones do you think matter most?