Help Your Teen Learn to Adult: 20 Life Skills They Need

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Help Your Teen Learn to Adult: 20 Life Skills They Need

Written by: Morgan Hill

“I think the best thing we can do for our children is allow them to do things for themselves, allow them to be strong, allow them to experience life on their own terms… let them be better people, let them believe more in themselves.” 

~ C. JoyBell C.

Though my kids will always be my babies, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a mom if I didn’t help them learn to “adult.”

Sometimes, that means tossing them out into the world to figure a few things out on their own.

Sometimes, it means stepping back when they ask for my help and saying, “Give this a shot yourself… I’m right here if you stumble.” 

Sometimes, it means holding my tongue when they’re attempting something on their own and resisting the urge to jump in and do it for them. (Oh, that’s so hard, sometimes!)

But what I do now, in my kids’ teen years, matters. In fact, it matters a lot. My gentle pushes of encouragement to take the next step on their own is exactly what they need to become more confident and independent, to be a better roommate, partner, friend, employee and perhaps even a boss one day.  

I can’t teach them every life lesson, (some things they’re just going to have to learn on their own), but what I can do is check a few things off the “Adulting 101” list so they don’t step out into the world totally blindsided. Help your teen learn to adult. Here are 20 life skills they need. 

Help Your Teen Learn to Adult: 20 Life Skills They Need


#1 How to Follow a Recipe

Sure, Ramen Noodles and pizza might get them through their high school and college days, but chances are they’re going to starve once they venture out on their own. Round up a handful of their favorite breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes and teach them step-by-step how to prepare them. They’ll thank you later!

#2 Food Safety Tips

Some food you can keep in the fridge for weeks and it’s fine; other food tends to go bad in two to four days. Passing along a few pointers to your soon-to-be-adult will not only save them from having a stinky, gross refrigerator but also prevent them from getting deathly sick by eating food (like meat) that doesn’t hold up well over time. 

#3 Laundry Basics

You’ve lovingly done your kid’s laundry for years. Now it’s their turn. Teach them how to separate colors, what not to wash, what temperature should be used to wash and dry their clothes, a few simple stain remover tricks and how to properly fold clothes. (Seriously, have you ever seen a teenager fold clothes?) Here’s your chance to teach your teen and lighten your chore load by getting them to practice.

#4 Manners… Beyond the Basics

You’ve taught them the importance of saying please and thank you, keeping their elbows off the table and being on time, but if they’re going to “adult,” they need to dive in a little deeper in the basic manners department. From how to properly use utensils at a nice restaurant (something even some adults struggle with) and truly listening when someone is speaking to giving up their seat to a disabled or elderly person and how to tip properly, manners are what will set them apart  – both professionally and in their personal life. Check out this post! 12 Etiquette Rules Your Teen is Probably Breaking

#5 A Proper Handshake

As your teen gets older, they’ll be applying for volunteer opportunities, internships and jobs. Prepare them by practicing a firm handshake, making direct eye contact and smiling. First impressions matter!

#6 How to Write a Thank You Note or Follow-Up Email

Whether they’re thanking grandma for a birthday gift or thanking an interviewer for the opportunity to meet with them, teaching your teen how to write a proper thank-you note will go a long way. Make sure they also know how to write a professional follow-up email – you know, one that doesn’t include emojis. 

#7 How to Really Clean

Chances are your teen can pick up their bedroom and make it look moderately presentable, but cleaning… really cleaning, is a skill that needs to be taught. Teach them how to mop the floor, sweep, vacuum, dust, and clean a sink and toilet. Their future roommate, partner or spouse will thank you!

#8 How to Use an ATM, Write a Check, Apply for a Credit/Debit Card 

Teaching your teen the fundamentals of using a debit or credit card, how to write a check and how to deposit or withdraw money from an ATM is just as important as teaching them how to drive. Make sure they know how to use a credit card wisely, the importance of building credit, why interest rates matter, why they need to read the fine print, and how to avoid credit card debt.

#9 Budgeting Basics

Your teen may not have a car payment or a mortgage yet, but getting a few budgeting skills under their belt will set them up for long-term financial success. Teach them how to calculate any expenses they may have, what their monthly income is, why the “save first, spend later” approach can help them save money, and why tracking their spending will help them budget better. 

#10 How to Tip Properly

How much should they tip at a restaurant? How about their hairstylist or the pizza delivery person? Let’s face it, tipping can be confusing (even for adults, sometimes). When and how much to tip can depend on a number of factors. Still, there are a few basics you should pass along to your teen – where they should always tip, what percentage is considered socially acceptable, where tipping might be optional and when it’s not necessary.

#11 How to Book a Flight + Packing + Travel Basics

Soon enough, your teen is going to be hopping on a plane without you, which means they’ll need to know how to make a flight reservation, how to pack properly, and the ins and outs of flying, including making sure they have ID on them, how to check baggage, what not to travel with and airport restrictions (i.e. what they can carry through security). Let them shadow you a few times so they’re not overwhelmed when it comes time to travel solo.


#12 Personal Safety Tips

We can’t protect our kids from every dangerous or potentially life-threatening situation they may encounter in their life, but we can prepare them. From safe driving tips to how to stay safe in college and on the internet, pass along all those important life lessons you’ve acquired. Check out this post! 50 Potentially Life-Saving Safety Tips Every Teenager Should Know

#13 How to Create a Killer Resume

Even before your child graduates high school, they’ll likely be applying to part-time jobs. And, considering most employers are stepping up their game in terms of what they’re looking for in employees, it’s important for your “newly adulting” teen to put their best foot forward. A well-written, well-organized resume that highlights your teen’s experience and best attributes can make the difference between them getting the job or being passed up. Check out this post: 43 Resume Tips That Will Help You Get Hired

#14 How to Dress for Success

Whether they want to impress an interviewer for a job or internship or they’re meeting their boyfriend or girlfriend’s parents for the first time, knowing what to wear (and what not to wear) for certain occasions is important when you’re getting the hang of adulting. (Just a heads up… no, flip-flops and a hoodie won’t go over well in an interview, nor will a wrinkled shirt they look like they slept in when meeting parents.) Start giving your teen a few tips here and there so by the time they move out, they’ll at least know the basics. (TIP: Don’t forget to teach your boy how to tie a necktie!)

#15 Basic Health Tips

How to make a doctor’s appointment, how to confidently speak to a doctor about what’s ailing them, how to fill a prescription, what medicines to take, which ones shouldn’t be taken together and pointers about health insurance – you won’t be able to teach your almost-adult everything, but it’s important for them to understand the basics so they can manage their health without you by their side. 

#16 Basic Car Maintenance

Other than pumping gas, most teens have little experience with car maintenance, which is why it’s important to teach them a thing or two before they venture into the real world. Make sure they know how to change a tire, how to jump a car, when to change the oil, the importance of regular maintenance, and a few tips on purchasing car insurance.


#17 How to Accept Responsibility For Their Actions

Understanding that they will be held accountable for their actions and taking full responsibility for what they say and do is one of the more important life skills your teen needs to master before they jump into the real world. You can help your teen get a running start by creating a culture of accountability in your family, making your teen responsible for certain chores in the house, and establishing firm rules and expectations.

#18 Time Management Skills

When you’re juggling school, a job, an internship, extracurriculars, volunteering and your personal life, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Your teen can get the hang of “adulting” by prioritizing what’s important in their life, not procrastinating, keeping distractions at bay and staying organized – all of which will help them both in school and in their future career. They also need to gather a few tips about how to manage stress, how and why they should prioritize their mental health and when they should reach out for help, if needed.

#19 Relationship Tips

Whether your teen is navigating a complex romantic relationship or a relationship with their roommate in college who they’re not seeing eye-to-eye with, how your child handles themselves says a lot about who they are as a person. Adulting means knowing when to speak up and when to stay silent, how to listen and communicate effectively, how to be open, honest and authentic, and how to manage emotions when anger, conflict or frustration kicks in. It’s also about respecting others and their boundaries and identifying red flags in relationships. Consider this time in their lives a practice ground for future relationships.


#20 It’s Not All About Them

Perhaps one of the more important skills your teen needs to adult is coming to terms with the fact that they are not the epicenter of the universe. Even though they may be hyper-focused on what’s happening in their life (we all are at times), your teen needs to learn to pay greater attention to what’s happening around them, how their words and actions impact others and how they can positively impact their world by taking note of other’s needs. It’s not always about them, their needs and their wants. Help your teen learn to adult by encouraging them to view life through a much broader lens.

About Morgan Hill:

Morgan Hill is an essayist and humorist. She has written for many online and print publications including Insider, Your Teen Magazine, Revel and MASK Magazine. She is the mother of freshman and senior sons in high school. When not writing, she can be found at flea markets, in her garden, photographing architecture, taking cooking classes or eating the stinkiest cheese she can find. You can also find her on Twitter @MorganHWrites or Instagram @MorganHillWriter

If you enjoyed reading, “Help Your Teen Learn to Adult: 20 Life Skills They Need” check out these other posts!

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