It’s back-to-school time for real, and since Labor Day just passed, a LOT of moms and dads just kissed their grown-up babies goodbye as they headed off to college or work. But will their 18-year-olds be prepared? As my kids get older, it hits me harder and harder that I am raising ADULTS, not children, and that I need to prepare them to be functional, capable grown-ups in this hard world we live in. It’s a daunting task, and one it’s easy to mess up by simply doing too much FOR our children instead of teaching them to do for themselves.
I recently came across an article written by the former dean of the illustrious Stanford University, Julie Lythcott-Haims, taken from her book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success (Henry Holt & Co., 2015). In the article, Lythcott-Haims reveals 8 skills our kids MUST have by the time they’re 18 unless we want them to come crawling back home defeated. I LOVE what she says here, and I hope all parents who read this take it to heart.
8 Skills Everyone Should Have By Age 18
1. 18-year-olds should be able to talk to strangers
Lythcott-Haims says when kids get to college, they are going to have to talk to a LOT of strangers: professors, their new roommate and residence staff, advisors, financial aid officers, perspective employers…and they need to know how to do it RIGHT. The problem, she says, is “We teach kids not to talk to strangers instead of teaching the more nuanced skill of how to discern the few bad strangers from the mostly good ones. Thus, kids end up not knowing how to approach strangers — respectfully and with eye contact — for the help, guidance, and direction they will need out in the world.” I couldn’t agree more!
2. An 18-year-old must be able to find his way around
College campuses or new cities of residence can be daunting and confusing. Make sure your kids know how to find and use directions (may have to talk to a stranger for that) and navigate public transportation if necessary—buses, trains, whatever is available in their new surroundings. Start now by having them navigate when you go somewhere—don’t just drive them where they need to go and not make them be aware of the route.
3. An 18-year-old must be able to manage his assignments, workload, and deadlines
This is one I can say I’ve been IMPRESSED with my 13-year-old on. Whew! He takes care of his own school business and rarely asks for help or needs me to be on top of him to meet deadlines. Once they are on their own, they will have to know how to manage and prioritize their workload. Junior high is a GREAT age to start making them responsible in this area if you haven’t already!
4. An 18-year-old must be able to contribute to the running of a household
This is a BIGGIE, Lythcott-Haims says, because if we do everything for them, “kids don’t know how to look after their own needs, respect the needs of others, or do their fair share for the good of the whole.” And those things are HUGE components to a successful adulthood!
5. An 18-year-old must be able to handle interpersonal problems
It’s real-word time. Your child will be living among strangers with different backgrounds and personalities. We need to train them on how to handle conflict NOW, and not solve all their personal problems for them, so they can handle life sticky relational situations when they are on their own.
6. An 18-year-old must be able to cope with ups and downs
Life isn’t fair. Bad things happen to good people, and we ALL struggle. Your kids need to know before they are 18 and on their own, how to deal with and learn from the disappointments and failures that will inevitably come their way.
7. An 18-year-old must be able to earn and manage money
If they haven’t worked for money up to this point, receiving it only from mom and dad, kids may have trouble with financial responsibility, completing job tasks, and learning to work for a boss who doesn’t love them unconditionally like mom and dad do. Money management is essential so they don’t get themselves into financial trouble before they are even established adults—I think of all the credit card offers I got as a poor college student and cringe!
8. An 18-year-old must be able to take risks
This is one skill I know I didn’t have as an overly-cautious 18-year-old. While that served me well in the fact that I didn’t engage in risky college behavior like heavy drinking and partying, I also didn’t know how to really try something and be willing to fail. As Lythcott-Haims says, if we smooth the way for them, “kids don’t develop the wise understanding that success comes only after trying and failing and trying again (a.k.a. ‘grit’) or the thick skin (a.k.a. ‘resilience’) that comes from coping when things have gone wrong.
So, who’s ready to get cracking and teach their kids these 8 important LIFE SKILLS? I know I am! I will ALWAYS be there for them, but I also want them to be able to solve their own problems. Lythcott-Haims’ final thought in her article rings REALLY true with me: “Remember: our kids must be able to do all of these things without resorting to calling a parent on the phone. If they’re calling us to ask how, they do not have the life skill.”
What life skills would you add to her list?