Recently I posted Huffington Post article via my Facebook page titled “31 things kids should be able to do before they leave home." The author, a mom of teenaged boys, shares a story about how she became panicked at the realization that her sons weren’t prepared for many of the basic life skills they would need when they left the nest. It was a good list, including things like: write a check, use an ATM, sew a button, and change a tire. As I read through the list, and looked at the comments on the post, I noticed, however, that the entire list of 31 items contained only one interpersonal or psychological skill: “say no with confidence.”
While I believe it’s important to teach our kids how to change a tire, personally, I think we might all get more bang for our parental-lesson buck of we focused on the psychological skills and relationship skills our kids will need when they leave the nest. Why? Because if they have strong social support, and if they can cope as healthy adults, their friends and neighbors will help them with the skills they haven’t acquired. And besides, they can Google the rest.
So, I jotted my own list of things I want my kids, and yours, to be able to do before they leave home. Many of the skills on my list are ones most of us begin teaching in elementary school. But by high school, kids are often on their own to solve social problems and learn to cope. After puberty, their relationships and emotional needs get more complicated. This is when they need guidance most, but are parents offering it? While I like the list that includes plunge a toilet and pack a suitcase, below is my list of skills I would add – or perhaps start with.
31 more skills a kid should have before they leave home:
Make an apology. A sincere one.
Break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Talk out a conflict with a friend (or roommate).
Ask for help.
Work out a problem for themselves.
Keep in touch with important people.
Say I love you.
Ignore bad behavior.
Confront someone who is out of line.
Volunteer for something.
Help a friend.
Keep a secret.
Refuse to keep a secret, when necessary.
Write a letter.
Tolerate uncomfortable feelings.
Maintain control of behavior.
Stand up for a friend.
Walk away from a fight.
Exit a problematic social situation (ie: a party with drugs).
Ask someone to dance.
Give a thoughtful gift.
One might reasonably argue that I’m biased. I am a mental health professional, after all. My focus is expectedly on the “mental” and “emotional” aspects of kids leaving home. Anyone making that argument would be right. But in my daily professional work with young adults, I see a lot of young people who don’t successfully leave the nest, and none of them return home because they cannot iron a shirt.
Kids return home because they cannot tolerate their emotions or control their behaviors. They succumb to drugs or alcohol. They skip classes or work because they are facing a painful break-up. When our kids can navigate relationships, cope with adversity, and solve problems, we have equipped them for almost anything. And the rest will come with time, experience, and perhaps a good circle of friends to coach them through it.
Dr. Deuter is a psychiatrist who specializes in the care of emerging adults.