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Teach your teen Life Skills 101 on journey to future independence

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Teenager baking

In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. Am I being overly protective?
2. Which skills should I teach?
3. How do I raise a self-sufficient child?

Letting our kids grow up can be quite a quandary. We want our children to become successful, independent adults. But for them to get there, we need to let go a little bit — and that can be very hard, says Cheryl Checkers, former clinical director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Palm Beach County.

“We spend so much energy protecting our kids from dangers seen and unseen, that they rarely get the chance to test their mettle or develop coping skills,” she says. “When we do too much for them, they don’t learn from examples, are ill-prepared for work or social environments, and things like depression and esteem issues set in.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Checkers says. “Parents can decide today to start preparing kids for independence, so when they reach 18, they have a clear understanding of basic adult responsibilities.”


Sometimes we do too much under the guise of being good parents. However, you can be good while also preparing your children for self-sufficiency.

As children embrace their independence, some parents aren’t ready to let go, so regression sets in.

“Children begin learning life skills very early, but parents underestimate how much they can learn and how soon,” says Dorothea Daniels, former coordinator of Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program, known as TOP, at Children's Home Society of Florida in West Palm Beach. “Parents also tend to limit what kids and teens are exposed to because of their own discomfort with certain subjects, and this is detrimental to them in the long run.”


When asked, “What should all children know by age 18?” Harris, Daniels and Checkers all agree: They should know a little bit of everything.

“In our Teen Outreach Program, we have a full curriculum designed to teach independent (life) skills,” Daniels says. Parents can learn more by contacting the Children’s Home Society or Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, which funds the program.

“As parents, we have an obligation to prepare our kids to thrive,” Harris says. “Anything less jeopardizes their future ability to succeed.”


Here are eight basic life skills your teen should know how to do before they leave your home:

  1. Education, career and volunteer interest: As early as 12, children should understand the range of options and decision-making skills required to plan for high school and college. This includes how to apply for college/jobs and communicate appropriately in professional environments.
  2. Independent living: Before age 18, they should have basic life skills 101: how to find a job, grocery shop, cook, clean and do laundry.
  3. Housing: Young adults should know how to find housing, pay rent and understand lease agreements.
  4. Managing a budget: This one’s a biggie. Young adults need to know how to handle finances and pay bills if they’re going to make it in the world. For tips on teaching financial responsibility, check out this Bankrate article.
  5. Personal hygiene: Children should know correct names/functions for all body parts and how to maintain cleanliness.
  6. Traveling: They should know how to use public and personal transportation. This means learning how to use the bus system and navigate a map.
  7. Community participation: Does your child know how to address and mail a letter, go to the library and check out a book, deposit money in a bank account? These are essential life skills.
  8. Voting: Youth should know the importance of voting, how to register and vote.


• Cheryl Checkers, former clinical director, National Alliance on Mental Illness Palm Beach County
• Dorothea Daniels, former coordinator of Teen Outreach Program, Children's Home Society of Florida

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