Basic Life Skills for Your Teen

By Lisa Lewis 

Helping our teens launch into adulthood isn’t any one single action; it’s a process of helping them take ownership of their lives while also gradually reducing our own involvement to help ease the transition. Keeping the following things in mind may help.

Help Teens Start Taking the Reins

It’s tempting for parents to oversee tasks and responsibilities in order to ensure they get done and to help protect kids from risk, but gradually stepping back from this role helps teens develop the independence and competence to handle these items themselves.

  • Remember that the transition will be a process, not an abrupt shift. Making it a point to get teens involved in tasks you’ve previously handled, whether it’s doing laundry or making doctors’ appointments, helps them develop the skills they’ll need.
  • Walk them through the necessary steps. If they feel intimidated by having to take on tasks that you previously handled, be available to answer questions as needed. It will help them develop the confidence and autonomy they’ll need to handle the tasks themselves.
  • Stay involved, but resist the urge to jump in. Sometimes it’s a matter of degree: Reminding them what needs to be done is OK, but completing a task for them because they forgot to do it cushions them from seeing that there are consequences. Needing to handle the fallout—such as incurring a penalty charge because they forgot to mail something on time—can be the most effective way to learn not to do it again.

Managing Health and Well-Being

Once a teen turns 18, parents and guardians legally no longer have access to their health records without their written consent. Even before this, however, teens can start taking responsibility for making their own appointments and filling out their own health-related forms.

  • If your teen is still on the family’s health insurance plan, make sure they have their own insurance card and know how to find a covered provider by looking on the insurer’s website or calling the phone number listed on their card. They’ll also need to understand the basics of copays, deductibles, and in-network vs. out-of-network providers. You can learn more about these terms in this glossary and share this comprehensive explanation of insurance with them
  • If your teen is headed off to college, make sure they know that the on-campus health center can be a first stop for basic health-care needs and referrals.
  • Ensure your teen knows how to schedule their own appointments and request medication refills.
  • Underscore the importance of reading medication labels to verify the dosage and understand potential interactions. Similarly, make sure your teen is aware that they need to provide any new health-care provider with a list of all the medications they are taking.
  • Emphasize the importance of getting enough sleep, which helps with everything from immunity to mental health. Teens 18 and older should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
  • Ensure your teen knows what to do if they get sick. Teens who are no longer living at home may not be used to managing their symptoms on their own. In addition to reminding them of the basics, such as the need to rest and stay hydrated, you can also help them determine if they need to make an appointment to be evaluated by a medical provider (such as if they have a cough that isn’t going away).

Making Other Health and Safety Decisions

Addressing topics such as consent and drug and alcohol use is difficult but essential. Thinking about these topics ahead of time and being equipped with information will help your teen navigate situations that may arise.

Given the brain development underway during adolescence and into early adulthood, teens are already prone to impulsivity and peer pressure, which are both risk factors that can influence behaviors. (A quick overview of teen brain development is available here.) Here are some things to think about:

  • Teens going away to college will need to set limits for themselves, given that they’re likely to be in situations with fewer parent-driven restrictions like house rules and curfews. Help them think through scenarios they may face, and emphasize that drug or alcohol use can affect other decisions, including sexual activity.
  • Help your teen identify coping strategies they can use when they’re stressed, anxious, or feeling depressed, and help them understand the difference between healthy coping strategies, such as getting enough sleep and exercise, and unhealthy ones, such as substance use.
  • Look to your family’s values, along with previous conversations you may have had, to help guide the messages you provide. 

If you haven’t previously talked about these topics or you’re looking for additional guidance, here are several resources to help you prepare.

You can also share these tips for staying safe from sexual assault on campus

Taking Care of Upkeep

Teens who are no longer living at home will need to be responsible for other aspects of their own care and living environment. This includes:

  • Doing laundry. Ensure your teen knows how to operate a washer and dryer, the importance of separating lights and darks before washing, and how and why to read care labels on clothing.
  • Cooking and planning meals. In addition to learning basic cooking skills, teens will need to know how to plan meals and create a shopping list. Other essentials may include a beginner cookbook, a good knife, and a set of basic pans.
  • Cleaning. If your teen will be living in an apartment or other non-dorm environment, they’ll need to handle tasks such as cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming, and dusting. Set them up for success by helping them determine the basic cleaning tools and supplies they’ll need. 

Share with your teen these other resources for how to live on your own

Managing Time

A key aspect of being independent is managing priorities and time. Encourage your teen to:

  • Prioritize and keep track of when assignments are due and break down projects into smaller chunks.
  • Keep a to-do list of tasks and due dates for everything from school projects to bills, if applicable.
  • Come up with a calendar system that works for them to block out chunks of time for working on assignments, as well as other pursuits such as exercise and socializing.
  • Manage tech use so it doesn’t eat into sleep time or other activities. This may include setting a timer when taking tech breaks from studying, using Do Not Disturb mode at night, or charging the phone overnight in a different room (or at least not next to the bed). 

Share these tips for healthy social media use with your teen

Learning Financial Responsibility

Even if you’re paying for college, your teen can start taking increased responsibility for tracking their expenses and managing a budget. Encourage them to build financial literacy by:

  • Learning basic money terms, including understanding the difference between credit and debit cards and between checking and savings accounts.
  • Managing their monthly budget. Whether you’re providing a monthly allowance or they’re earning their own money, your teen can start tracking expenses, paying bills on time, and budgeting so they can set aside money for specific expenses.
  • Learning how to comparison-shop for more expensive items, such as electronics, through a site such as Consumer Reports.
  • Opening a credit card account as a way to start building a credit history. As part of this, your teen will need to understand the benefits of paying off the balance each month and how interest accrues.
Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.