15 Life Skills Every Teen Should Learn

Why not build these skills while they’re home?

Life Skills For Teens

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Learning life skills doesn’t just build independence, it also builds social-emotional learning (SEL) skills that teens need. There are five core SEL competencies that experts recommend and we’ve gathered the top life skills that help build them! Look for: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, and the tools to build relationships in the 15 life skills we’ve gathered here:

Teaching hint: don’t assume anything and answer the questions kids ask even if they seem like common sense. 

Life skill #1: How to do the laundry

How to teach it: Start with the basics like how to sort colors and read the labels. Discuss why some clothing items should be washed differently. Don’t forget to teach teens how to use a washing machine and dryer. What is each button for and how does the timing work? You’ll want to cover the benefits of air drying and the differences between detergent, fabric softener, bleach, and stain remover. This is also a good time to reinforce finishing something you start. It’s better to do one load from dirty to folded and put away.

Why it matters: Being able to do laundry is a fundamental basic that helps build confidence. Teens learn to care for themselves, feel good about how they look in front of others, and organize their time as it relates to tasks. This relatively simple life skill helps teens learn self-awareness, social-awareness, and self-management.

Life skill #2: How to shop for groceries

How to teach it: The best way to show your children how to grocery shop is to invite them to go with you. Be sure to show your teen how to develop a shopping list by looking at what you’ve already got on hand. Deepen the learning by discussing the concept of meal plans and nutrition considerations. Teens love to share their knowledge about food and what they’ve heard is good or bad for their bodies. Use this natural interest to further communication. Discuss how to choose the best fruits and vegetables and why the outside aisles of the grocery store are the places to focus your shopping.

Why it matters: Eating well is critically important to a successful well-being and life. Choosing the food we’ll eat and how we’ll share it with others includes some major competencies like responsible decision-making, self-awareness, and relationship building.

Life skill #3: How to cook

How to teach it: Now that your teen knows how to get the food into the house, it’s equally important to know what to do with it. Instead of making all the meals yourself, include your teen in meal prep, cooking, and clean up. Share the cookbooks and online resources you use for recipes and meal ideas. Ask them to find a recipe they’d like to make and coach them through making it. Consider getting them some cookbooks geared to a teen audience. 

Why it matters: Developing a cooking repertoire increases self-awareness, decision-making, and relationship building. When teens can contribute to the household in personalized, independent ways, everyone wins.

Life skill #4: How to manage money

How to teach it:  The more conversations your teen hears about money, the more in control of their finances they become. Learning about managing money comes from having an allowance, budgeting for things you want, understanding how credit cards work, and saving money for a school trip or for college. For many of us, talking about money is a learned activity, so take it from the pros before you bring it to your teen. 

Why it matters: By teaching money-management early you allow teens to practice decision-making skills and personal responsibility before they can have a major impact on their life. It’s also true that the biggest challenges in our lives stem from mismanaged money. Let’s help teens avoid that challenge by taking control of money early on.

Life Skill #5: How to stay organized

How to teach it: Teenagers need help when it comes to developing organization skills. And while parents shouldn’t take over, teens need help to build these skills. Start with your teen’s traits. For example, don’t force list-making if that’s not in someone’s nature. Instead offer up ideas like using standard phone apps to keep things organized. Reminders, Notes, Messages, Calendars, Photos, Weather, Clock, Maps, Mail, and Voice Memos can make a huge difference. Some teens do better when they have concrete reminders like Post-It notes or task lists on paper. The aim is to get teens understanding that staying organized is a practiced skill and can improve their lives.

Why it matters: Every social-emotional skill improves with organization. Organization affects you (self-awareness) and those around you (social awareness).

Life skill #6: How to manage time

How to teach it: Learning time management will literally change your teen’s life. Time management, once mastered, helps a teen control their destiny. Discuss what schedule works best for your teen. Think about making a plan for what to do if you run out of time. Teach explicitly. For example: Here is how you enter a task into the calendar or reminder app. This helps you avoid arguments later when your teen tells you they didn’t know how to do it.

Why it matters: Good time management allows teens to accomplish more in a shorter period of time. This ultimately leads to more free time, which lets them take advantage of learning opportunities, lowers their stress, and helps them focus.

Life skill #7: How to talk on the phone

How to teach it: This life skill applies to many other life skills such as setting up an appointment, approaching a teacher, or making a friend. For adults, the concept of calling someone on the phone is second nature, but for teens it’s all about text messaging. Using the phone is best mastered through practice. For this life skill, try throwing your teen into an experience. Ask your teen to make a hair appointment or dinner reservation. Don’t fix challenges for them, instead sit next to them while they call the registrar to find out what is still needed in their application. If they seem overly concerned about testing out their phone skills, ask them to call you from another room and ask what’s for dinner. Start where they are and build from there.

Why it matters: Talking on the phone teaches communication skills and relationship building skills that require sharing information that cannot be readily seen. There are many times in our lives when this kind of communication is necessary.

Life skill #8: How to swim

How to teach it: This is one best left to the experts, but it’s important to find the right teacher for your teen. Some teens might prefer to be private about learning and some will enjoy a group lesson. For teens who didn’t learn to swim early on, this will also be a lesson in overcoming challenges.

Why it matters: Learning a new way to move your body is great for self-awareness. And, water safety is also good for responsible decision-making practice. Plus, being a lifeguard is considered one of the best summer jobs for a teen, but you have to learn how to swim first.

Life skill #9: How to find a job

How to teach it: Finding a job is hard for a skilled adult with lots of experience, but for a teen it can feel impossible. Take this one point by point, addressing tools for finding a job first. No matter how young a tween or teen is, they can still develop a decent resume. The important thing to remember is not to compare your teen to others you know. Instead, build upon your teen’s strengths. Once you’ve both brainstormed strengths, come up with local (or online) jobs that play to them

Why it matters: Teens respond far differently to jobs outside the home than they do to chores or homework. This is a great way to help your teen discover their identity and practice self-management, self-awareness, and relationship building skills.

Life skill #10: How to read a map and use public transportation

How to teach it: Here, you’ll be teaching your teen how to navigate by map or GPS and how to use public transportation. Paper maps aren’t as common now as they were ten years ago, but there is still a need to understand how to read one. Start by discussing the different parts of a map and the common symbols you may find. Compare a phone mapping app to a paper one. Next, take the time to look at bus and train schedules and stops. Finally, have your teen find a location to visit and discuss the best way to get there.. Even if you live in the suburbs or a more rural area, see if you can find a bus or train for your teen to practice on.

Why it matters: Knowing how to get yourself places without your own car, in any location, is a true mark of independence. Navigation promotes responsible decision-making including analyzing situations and solving problems.

Life skill #11: How to be a self-starter

How to teach it: In order to protect our teens from pain, we often take on the responsibility of motivating them. Teaching how to be a self-starter can be one of the best skills you offer your teen. Here are some of the skills that help people become self-starters:

  • set reachable goals
  • embrace change
  • flexibly adjust self-image
  • accept failure as a part of the process

Working on any of these skills will help teens become self-starters.

Why it matters: People who motivate themselves tend to be the most successful. The more self-aware a teen is, the better they will be at the skills needed to become a self-starter. Self-starters tend to be drawn to other self-starters, which can help improve relationships and success in life.

Life skill #12: How to stand up for yourself

How to teach it: Being assertive is different from being aggressive and it’s this difference that will help your teen thrive. Teach teens to be kind. Ask them what they believe in. When we say our beliefs out loud, we know what they are when they are put to the test. Talk through scenarios and how your teen might consider reacting. If your teen isn’t open to the conversation, play the game: Which would you rather and why? You’ll each state two scenarios and the other person will have to choose one and defend it. Example: If someone you know slips and falls and everyone laughs, would you rather say nothing and wait until the scene is over or tell people to stop laughing and help the person up? Why?

Why it matters: When we teach teens to be assertive, we give them skills they can use in almost every situation. They are better able to express their needs (self-management), it’s easier for them to make friends (relationship building), and they are less likely to fall victim to bullying. Research suggests that assertive training may also help lower anxiety, stress, and depression.

Life skill #13: How to cope with failure

How to teach it: Failure is hard for anyone, but exponentially so for parents watching their kids fail. But, believe it or not, failure leads to success. Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure,  says, ” Kids who have never had to deal with failure find themselves unable to cope as adults when a relationship goes sour or a work project doesn’t pan out.” So, what can you do? Teach healthy self-talk. Praise your teen’s effort instead of their achievement. Talk about failure and be a model for dealing with it. Share your own failures.

Why it matters: The more opportunity teens have with coping with failure, the better they learn to pivot and stay flexible. Failing hones their decision-making skills and makes them self-aware like nothing else does.

Life skill #14: How to clean the house

How to teach it: Teach teens how to clean and take care of a house by making a list of all the cleaning and maintenance jobs you do and then explicitly teaching your expectations to your teen. Assign chores to different members of the family and rotate so everyone gets a break. As much as we tell teens why it’s important to keep a clean house, actually doing it themselves will help them understand what’s involved. This will pay off later in life when they live with others or invite people over to their house.

Why it matters: Beyond learning practical things like how to do dishes or vacuum, chores are also shown to help teens academically, emotionally, and professionally.

Life skill #15: How to drive safely

How to teach it: The very first truly adult life skill for most teens is going through the process of driver’s education and getting their license. Besides helping them find a good driver’s education teacher, the best thing you can do is model safe driving. It doesn’t hurt to talk about your driving choices as you drive with them. Teens might be surprised to find out how many things you must think about at once when you drive. 

Why it matters: It’s important to note that becoming a first-time driver as a teen requires some hefty social-emotional learning skills. Teens must learn to manage peer pressure, making the right choices, as well as self-management. This skill cannot be overestimated in its value to help teens feel self-sufficient, safe, and empowered.

Life is tough enough, let’s help our teens feel confident by teaching them the life skills they need. We’re proud to work with The Allstate Foundation to bring you the tools you need to help teens become more resilient.

Also, check out Free Guide for Parents: How to Help Teens Build Life Skills for Success.

Posted by Kimberley Moran

Kimberley is a Senior Editor at WeAreTeachers. She has 15 years of classroom teaching experience and a master's degree in literacy education.

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