A few months back I found this awesome list that described 100 things your kids should know how to do before they leave home. It was filled with useful information like how to do laundry and formulate a shopping list plus some things I never thought about like filling out a health form and in-person banking.
I went through the list point by point with my teens talking to them about each one. They absorbed the information and I felt smug that one day they will be prepared to fly the nest.
But as the pandemic rolls on and I look around at the current state of our teens, I recognized that those life skills, while useful, will not actually help them get through life effectively. Sure, they need to know these things, but will it make or break them if they throw a red sock in with their whites once? Can’t they look up how to fill out a check on Google?
What they need to get through this life–and to live it productively–transcends any bullet-pointed list. A few months back, I noticed my kids had changed a bit. They were crabbier and a bit more selfish. They were getting a little curt. They seemed to have lost their mojo. The pandemic was wearing on them and hard. And that’s when I realized that I didn’t do my job as well as I could at this moment. I needed to give them a mind shift that would help them be able to tackle any issue life threw at them.
I drew up a new set of life skills I wanted to teach my three teen daughters.
+ Walk every day. Go around the block. Hike through the woods. Run a few miles, but get outside no matter what the weather. As someone whose mood correlates with the weather, I know how important this is. Sometimes I literally have to threaten my kids to get them to do this, but it is so worth it.
+ Learn how to be by yourself without your phone. Sometimes when we run an errand, I make my kids leave their phones at home. They HATE it, but sometimes you should just be alone with your thoughts. Look out the window and see the world passing you by. Talk to the people around you. Learning how to enjoy your own company is an important skill that can get you through some pretty dark times. Learning how to connect with others is critical.
+ Keep trying new things. For a long time I ignored the fact that video games and social media took up my kids’ free time. They enjoyed them, it was sometimes social, and I just didn’t feel like arguing with them about one more thing. But then I realized that they kept choosing those gadgets because they were mindless, and I want them to be mindful. My husband and I told them that they needed to find a hobby that they didn’t have to plug in and then spend a few hours a week on it. We bought a cheap ukulele for one of my daughters, and fixed an old sewing machine for another. It didn’t have to be expensive, but they had to stick with it for a few months. Now, they do these things on most nights instead of melding into their phones.
+ How to practice gratitude. Teens can be the most self-centered people on the planet. It’s okay, though. Their brains are hard-wired to be that way. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t teach them to always be mindful of what they are grateful for in this life. A few times a week I annoyingly talk about a few small things I’m grateful for (50 degree weather in late November, the frother my friend gifted me, my health) and then I ask them to give me a few gratitude points, too. I’m not going to lie, they do it with rolled eyes, but the answers start coming more readily and spontaneously now.
-+ Empathy first. Like gratitude, some people are born empathetic, and others must learn it. I think most kids have a mixture of inherent empathy and a void that needs to be filled and learned. One of the most important things I learned about teens is their outward reaction is not always what they are feeling. A blank stare when you tell your kid about bad news or an uncaring response could be a sign that they just don’t how how to react.
I now make a point to put in context current events. While I know their intelligence can process information, I don’t always think they have the empathy to see both sides. I discuss the memes they post on social media that they think are meaningless but are actually meaningful to other people. I play the devil’s advocate a lot when they discuss their peers. I stop what I’m doing when they frustrate me and share why I’m upset.
Now, I’m not going to kid you. My teens don’t love that I’m working on these “life skills”. I get a lot of rolled eyes and exasperated sighs and “OMG does everything have to be a life lesson?”
Finding the balance is hard, but as their parent I don’t just want to teach them how to get through life. I want to teach them how to enjoy it, be productive in it, and help others do the same.
And if they learn to do their laundry while there at it, all the better.