What Should You Teach Your Kids Before They Leave Home?

atkins-bookshelf-educationThe perfect metaphor for parent-teenager communication is still the “wah wah wah” sound (produced by a trumpet with a muted bell) that children heard any time an adult spoke in the Charlie Brown animated specials (over 40 of them!), televised from 1965 to 2011. Much to the frustration and bewilderment of parents, each generation, no matter how enlightened, has managed to pass on one undeviating counterintuitive life lesson: don’t listen to your parents, make your own mistakes  — even if it means repeating their mistakes. Whether it is a matter of hubris or ignorance, or a combination of both, most teenagers quickly dismiss a loving parent’s earnest attempt at pedagogy as outdated information, too much information (TMI), or incorrect information. The value of the parental lecture notwithstanding, a teenager’s response is the time-honored “talk to the hand” gesture or the snarky rolling of the eyes.

Although a teenager’s failure to heed a parent’s words of wisdom can elicit frustration, at least a parent can find some level of comfort in knowing that he or she knows a thing or two about life that is not taught in the classroom or that can be instantly googled. Most parents know that the greatest, most enduring life lessons are those that have been learned the hard way — without some bruises, scratches, and scars, a person hasn’t really lived and learned. Mark Twain’s candid assessment of his father, written more than a century ago, still rings very true today: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Amen, brother. It’s the universal truth: wisdom comes with age — but try telling that to the kids; to their ears it sounds like this: “wah wah wah wah.”

So what lessons or skills should children know before they leave home, perhaps headed for college or life in the “real world”? Bookshelf presents three lists by writers with slightly different perspectives who have carefully considered the topic and written thoughtful essays, summarizing the critical life lessons and skills that young people should have. Of course, the lists cannot be considered definitive or all-inclusive, but at the very least they can invite discussion among parents, educators, and teenagers. And one can imagine that if Twain’s father had read these listed, he would be nodding in agreement, with a knowing twinkle in his eye.

Marilyn vos Savant, writer of “Ask Marilyn” that appears in Parade magazine and known as the individual with the highest I.Q. in the world (she claims it is 228 — note that the range of the Stanford-Binet IQ test, 5th edition, is 40-160), wrote an article titled “What to Teach Your Kids Before They Leave Home.” The columnist delineated about 50 specific skills, broken into 12 core skill sets, that every 18-year-old should know. Here is an abbreviated version of her list:
1. Domestic skills: cooking, washing, basic sewing, cleaning, etc.
2. Physical skills: throw and catch balls, ride a bike
3. Handyman skills: know how to use basic tools and accomplish simple repair work
4. Outdoor skills: know how to hike and camping skills and safety
5. Practical skills: type (with your fingers not just your thumbs), set up a computer, drive a car
6. Organizational skills: set up a budget, balance a checkbook, use a calendar for planning, how to create a filing system
7. Social skills: initiate and maintain a short conversation with a stranger, public speaking, know how to dance (this is especially true for males)
8. Artistic skills: draw a simple illustration, sing
9. Human skills: Care for an animal, baby-sit, care for elderly or sick person, volunteer work
10. Orientation skills: how to use public transportation, read a map, navigate way out of a bad neighborhood, get directions
11. Recreation skills: play in team sport, keep fitness regimen, know games you can play with friends
12. Survival skills: know basic first aid, know CPR, how to take of yourself, how to turn off gas or water in emergencies

Andy Smithson, a licensed master of social work, author of the blog, TRU Parenting, and enthusiastic parent of four children, has reflected on his life as a father and provided this list of ten lessons a child who is leaving home should know:
1. How not to stink and other basic needs: basic hygiene, knowing how to eat well, taking care of yourself
2. How to wait: understanding the value of delayed gratification
3. How to tell the truth: understanding the importance of the virtue of being truthful
4. How to do nice things for others, just because: being kind to others
5. How to say “No!” Importance of setting and keeping boundaries
6. How to be smart: Learning the skill of how to learn
7. How to be a friend: Combining the notions of being a friend and a parent
8. What romance REALLY is: Learning what a real committed relationship is
9. How to be unrealistic: The importance of having a dream
10. How to make problems into opportunities: solving problems in constructive ways

Joel Peterson, chairman of JetBlue Airways and a parent, wrote an insightful article titled “Life Lessons to Teach Kids Before They Leave Home.” Here is his list of ten important life lessons:
1. Don’t be afraid to fail
2. Find the good in yourself
3. See the good in others
4. There’s no substitute for hard work
5. Building great habits is critical
6. Don’t expect fairness — at least in the short run
7. Be kind — it has more power than you think
8. Take yourself out of the center
9. Embrace reality
10. Solve for the long term

Read related post: The Wisdom of Parents
The Wisdom of a Grandparent
Letters to a Young Poet

For further reading: .usc.edu/student-affairs/parents/images/WhatToTeachYourKidsBeforeTheyLeaveHome.pdf

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