Record numbers of young adults bounce back home. What do you need to do to be certain your teen is ready for the start of his or her adulthood?
Make it your goal from early on. Every lesson you teach as a parent is a building block for a skill your child will need living as an independent adult. Keeping your goal to prepare your child in mind will help you stay the course. When parents remember to teach skills, they are less likely to jump in and solve problems for kids who need to practice filling their own toolboxes with strategies and expertise.
Prepare in advance. It may seem like you have an abundance of time, but when you’re raising kids, time flies. No matter the age of your kids, read the list of skills kids must develop to thrive as adults. Ask yourself if you need to adjust your parenting and do so sooner rather than later.
Start with yourself. You may not know it, but when a child moves out, many parents feel emotionally devastated. Read books about how parents cope. Talk to friends and ask what strategies worked for them. Parents often begin counseling to help them adjust to kids leaving home.
Then move to your teen. Ask yourself and your teen what gaps might exist in his skill set for adulthood. Work on those skills.
Skills every teen should develop:
Emotional/Psychological Skills: These include the ability to identify emotions, self soothe, exhibit self-control of inner emotional states, wait patiently, solve problems, delay gratification, tolerate uncomfortable feelings, and maintain control of behavior. Teens with well developed emotional/psychological skills know how to walk away from a fight and how to exit an out of control social situation (such as a gathering friends using drugs).
Friendship/Interpersonal Relationship Skills: Good social skills and manners go a long way. Teens should know how to carry on a conversation with a person of any age. They should be good judges of character. They should learn to speak up, stand up for a friend, keep a secret (and when to refuse to keep a secret), ignore bad behavior, and to confront someone who is out of line. Likewise they need to learn to really listen, admit fault and apologize, talk out a conflict with a friend (or roommate), say I love you, and hug.
Romantic/Intimate Relationship Skills: Teen dating can help kids learn to distinguish between love and infatuation. They can learn to ask someone to dance, navigate romantic feelings, and eventually to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. They can also learn to cope with rejection, say no, and control the urge to advance physical relationships too quickly.
Financial skills: Before leaving home, teens need practice budgeting, managing money, balancing a checkbook, saving for emergencies, maintaining bank accounts, and paying bills.
Academic/Work Skills: Learning how to be a productive student or employee begins with learning basic responsibility. When teens know how to be punctual, stay on task, and pay attention to details they are better equipped for school and career. Volunteering or working part time while living with parents can build these skills further.
Domestic/Maintenance Skills: Basic cooking, auto maintenance- like learning when the car should be serviced and how to change a tire, laundry, cleaning skills for a dorm room or apartment, and handling small household emergencies like a clogged toilet are all skills necessary to build before teens move out.
Self-Care Skills: Your teen should be equipped to ask for help, say no, and be assertive. Most teens need to learn to be in a quiet place to re-group, talk or write about difficult problems, and to plug into a faith community for support.
Medical Care Management Skills: Every adult needs to have healthcare knowledge to be capable of giving a medical history, filling a prescription at a pharmacy, or knowing how to self-diagnose simple illnesses, use a thermometer, and take over-the-counter medications.
To develop new skills, your teen needs to learn through experience. Give your teen room to take on responsibilities and make mistakes while he still lives at home. Provide abundant opportunities for supervised practice. Your family is the best judge of when your teenager is ready. Base your support and expectations on your child's abilities, level of emotional security, and personal history.
Dr. Deuter is a psychiatrist who specializes in the care of emerging adults.