If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put responsibility on their shoulders.
SAT prep, AP courses, soccer, karate, piano … we invest so many resources into activities we believe will contribute to our children’s lifelong success that we often overlook daily-life skills. And employers and college administrators are noticing. “In this modern age of parenting, many students have little experience managing their own lives,” states Esther Boykin, CEO and Managing Partner of Group Therapy Associates. “They often leave high school with fewer real-world skills and, for some, less resiliency when it comes to the emotional and social challenges of adulthood.”
As a mom, I love to be needed. And yes, to be in charge. It validated my choice of working from home. Even as my kids grew older and needed me less, I jumped at every opportunity – real or imagined – to do for them.
Until I realized I was doing it for me, not them.
I had to stop being their “Moogle” – their own personal Mommy search engine – and let them learn on their own. I had to let them make small decisions so they could practice for bigger ones. I had to focus less on clearing the path for my kids and more on preparing them for the path ahead, however rocky it may be.
On the way to adulthood, there are four essential paths that all children must learn to navigate on their own:
Emotional and Social
When children graduate from the high school cocoon, they head into the unknown and may be outside their comfort zone. If they’re prepared for it, they will experience great growth. Harlan Cohen, author of “The Naked Roommate and 107 Other Issues You May Run Into in College,” suggests talking with children about “getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.” Chances are they are going to feel anxious or depressed at some point. Who will they turn to or where will they go for support?
“Kids who have never tested their abilities grow into emotionally brittle young adults who are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression,” says Dr. Tim Elmore, Founder and President of Growing Leaders. “I don’t blame the kids. We created wimps, by either not being present when they needed us or by doing too much for them when they needed to do it themselves.” And while helicopter parenting may no longer be the trend, the effects linger. Boykin explains, “When parents – and other adults – do not allow children to have independence to fail and room to learn how to pick themselves back up, they end up in young adulthood floundering as they try to take care of their emotional and social needs.”
To prepare for periods of uncomfortableness, our teens should know how to initiate conversations, perform introductions, assess risk in social situations, ask for help and make plans for themselves and others, which means managing their own calendars and to-do lists. Importantly, our teens also need to know how to say “No,” with respect and confidence, when confronted by risky social situations, panhandlers and unwanted sexual advances.
Technology may help to connect us socially, but it can also prevent us from engaging with those around us. Rather than talk with someone next to us in line or in class, we pull out our smart phone. And our children use their phones to text us for answers to questions they could easily find on their own. To stop my kids from “Moogling,” I started asking them, “If I wasn’t available, where else could you find that information?”
You know those lengthy new patient or school-year forms that need to be completed? Give them to your child so they can begin learning their medical history. Making doctor’s appointments? Renewing prescriptions? Self-administering over the counter medications? Yep, your middle schooler, with training and support, can handle these things. Do they know what constitutes a balanced diet? Can they manage their electronic use to not interfere with sleep? For older teens moving, do they know the rules/laws surrounding substance use? What to do if a roommate or friend has overindulged? When kids turn to us with a perceived or real emergency, if time allows, start by asking them what they see as possible solutions before offering your own.
A Bank of America and USA Today study reports that less than half of 22 to 26-year-olds surveyed pay their own rent. Financial literacy should begin long before our kids graduate from high school. Let them manage and even misspend their own money and budget for their own needs, and let them practice doing without. We may be able to afford to buy their every want now, but they won’t necessarily be able to when they are on their own. They need to experience delayed gratification and the satisfaction of working to earn their way. Otherwise, be prepared to have them on the family payroll until well into adulthood.
Household training is a breeze after tackling emotional and social issues. A skill-set checklist might include laundry, cooking a repertoire of three or four meals, cleaning bathrooms (yes, even plunging a toilet), changing sheets (which they might do once a year), mailing packages and contributing their fair share in a group living arrangement. They know how to Uber, but can they read a map? Navigate their way through an airport? Make travel reservations? Read parking signs to avoid being towed?
While one of the greatest predictors of success as a college freshman is the availability of family support, Boykin says the lack of balance between expecting adult behavior and giving adequate emotional, social and financial support can set students on a path to failure. The result? “The students give up instead of learning how to push through the challenges ahead.”
When introducing new skills try the “shoe-tying” strategy. Don’t do it for them, because they will come to expect it. Don’t just throw them the shoes and expect them to learn by themselves because that sets them up for failure. Instead, help them break the skill down and learn to master each part. A little training can go a long way and is well worth the effort. After all, I am raising the parents of my future grandchildren.
The path to adulthood includes learning how to:
- Initiate conversations and perform introductions
- Assess risk and ask for help
- Manage schedules and to-do lists
- Say no firmly, but respectfully
- Schedule appointments
- Prepare a small repertoire of meals
- Make and stick to a budget
- Do laundry
- Mail a package
- Clean a bathroom
- Make travel arrangements
- “Choosing Your Own Adulthood” by Hal Runkel
- “Growing Leaders” by Tim Elmore