My kid recently attended future freshman night at the high school.
For her, this meant checking out clubs and teachers and classes and getting the vibe of her new school.
For me, this meant I have only four short years to make sure she’s equipped to take care of herself when she goes away to college.
So I checked in with members of my Parenting Brain Trust who’ve sent kids to college (or the military or whatever) about the essential skills kids need to have by the time they graduate high school. Here are some of their suggestions.
How to treat a medical issue
Your kid must be able to treat minor injuries and symptoms. But more important, they need to have a good idea of when it’s more serious and they need to see a doctor.
True story: A relative of mine nearly died when he contracted mono at college and didn’t get help until his parents hauled buns across the state to peel him off the floor and get him to a hospital.
Although it might seem obvious to you or me, it didn’t occur to him to go to the student health center.
I guess the moral of this story is that kids are sometimes very dumb. Talk to them about what constitutes a medical emergency, when it’s OK to wait for an appointment and how to contact an advice nurse if they aren’t sure.
Related skills: They need to know how to make an appointment and fill out the paperwork.
Training opportunities: Take a first aid class together; talk about your favorite home remedies for common ailments; let them make the appointment and handle the paperwork the next time they need to see a doctor.
My first week of college was a blur, but I do remember folding tables offering credit cards and free T-shirts as far as the eye could see. That “free” money got a lot of kids in trouble.
Training opportunity: Talk about interest rates, fees, grace periods and other realities of using credit cards. Remind your kid that the “free” T-shirt probably comes with serious strings.
Credit cards can be great tools, but it’s better to shop around instead of signing up for the first one you see. Here are a few tips on how to shop for a credit card that works for you.
Cooking and shopping
Every kid should master at least five nutritious, low-cost recipes, know how to follow simple recipes AND be able to shop smart for groceries and personal supplies on a budget.
Training opportunities: Take your teen shopping with you and show them how to compare unit prices, stock up during sales, use store apps and coupons and substitute products to get the best prices.
When you think they’re ready, give your teen a grocery list and a budget and send them on solo missions. At the same time, put them on the rotation to prepare family meals. Google is your friend for healthy, inexpensive recipes, but here’s a good place to start.
Behaving at a restaurant
They’re going to go out with friends, and you don’t want them to be the jerk who doesn’t have manners or pay their share. That alone is worth a conversation.
But there may also be college interviews and business lunches, so it’s more than a matter of social survival. It could affect their opportunities.
Training opportunity: Talk to them about tipping — why it’s an important part of that hard-working server’s income, how to calculate a tip and how if you can’t afford to tip, you shouldn’t eat anywhere fancier than Mickey D’s.
Also: Pay attention to their behavior when you’re out together. Do they need reminders to put the phone away? Are they rude to the server? Could their table manners use a polish? It’s better that you notice it than a potential employer or admission official does.
Even if your kid won’t be taking a car to school, they may still go on road trips with friends. And even if your kid is taking a car to school, they may need to navigate public transportation now and then.
Training opportunities: Make sure your kid knows how to change a tire, recognize warning signals, use the vehicle manual and call AAA. Then go over a bus schedule together to figure out how routes work.
Saying no. Or yes.
Setting boundaries is hard, even for a lot of adults. It can be brutal for kids. But failing to set clear boundaries can cause more than social headaches. It can cause your kid to feel overburdened, or worse, trapped in an unsafe situation.
Training opportunity: Have them practice saying no with self-confidence and give them more authority over their own “no” and “yes” choices when it makes sense. And if they’re having trouble with saying it, here are 49 more ways to say no.
Do you have other suggestions for things every kid should learn before they leave home? Tell us in the comments.