By Tammy Darling
When I heard from an acquaintance that her male cousin went off to college and didn’t even know how to operate a washing machine, I determined right then and there that my children would learn basic life skills before they truly needed them. While I learned in high school as part of my curriculum how to sew, cook, and otherwise manage a household, kids in school today don’t always have this opportunity. So unless parents take the initiative, today’s kids won’t be able to transition from teens to responsible adults successfully.
By the time my oldest daughter graduated from high school at age 17, she was able to wash her own laundry, cook meals, manage her own checking and savings accounts, and pay her own car insurance. She is now 20 and still living at home but does pay a small amount each week as rent. Our second daughter is 16 and has a job working 25-30 hours a week, plus her homeschooling studies. She’s also able to do her own laundry, cook complete meals, and pays her own car insurance.
Lest you think that I’m some kind of supermom, let me assure you, I am not. Far too many times I’ve taken the easy way out and have simply done things myself instead of taking the time to train my kids on how to do them. Let me just say that if you have any type of OCD tendencies, you will have to restrain yourself from redoing anything that your teen just does, because nothing will crush his or her motivation like Mom or Dad redoing what was just done. I’m speaking from experience here.
If you haven’t been proactive about transitioning your teen into adulthood, don’t panic. First of all, let me reassure you that you’ve probably done more naturally than you realize. You would be surprised how much our kids pick up by simply being around us. Really, just doing life with our teens is the best way to transition them into the adult world. Whether our teens openly admit it or not, they want to spend time with Mom and Dad. We can use this time to our advantage—and theirs—by being deliberate about what we do during our time together.
The following are some practical ways we can transition our teens into adulthood successfully and naturally:
Show & Tell
No one likes to be constantly told how to do something. Training sticks better when you combine telling and showing. When I taught my daughters how to use the washing machine, I started at the very beginning by showing them how I sort clothes and explaining why as I did. Then I showed them step by step how to operate the washer. The next time, they did it on their own—without my hovering. I was in the same room and simply told them if they had any questions I was there to help.
I wanted to be available if they ran into trouble, but at the same time I didn’t want to be a helicopter mom constantly hovering over them to see if they were doing it “right”—which brings me to my next point.
Very often there is more than one way to do a job well. Choose the relationship over being right. While I may like fabric softener in the sheets, it’s not wrong to leave it out.
Allow for mistakes too—it’s how we all learn and grow. If we always rescue our teens, they’ll never learn valuable problem-solving skills. Learn to laugh at your own mistakes and your teen will as well. When you do need to correct the way your child has done something, do so with care, lest they view it as criticism. In fact, my husband and I learned experientially that it helps to preface such an encounter with an explanation that what we’re doing is simply explaining a better or easier way of doing something and that it’s in no way intended as criticism. Our teens are more willing to accept our advice when we include this in our conversation.
Teens who participate in school, community, or church activities tend to be more proactive about their lives. They are not content to ride the wave of their teenage years but instead seek to make a difference.
For example, because my 16-year-old daughter wants to go on a 10-day mission trip to Brazil next year, she is taking on full responsibility for the finances required to go. She got a part-time job and is learning to budget her money, as she also pays for her own car insurance. She’s planning multiple fundraisers as well.
Let Them Lead
Because our goal is to help our teens transition, our job as parents is to guide, not lead. We need to simultaneously hold on while letting go. If we want our teens to become productive, responsible, and mature adults, we have to give them freedom to grow.
One way we’ve done this is by having our daughter get her own checking and savings account. She decides how much goes in each and is responsible for keeping accurate records. We do not tell her what she can spend, balance accounts for her, or reconcile statements. She is fully responsible for it all.
Make It Fun
Learning life skills doesn’t have to be boring. Teaching your teen to cook can come naturally as you simply spend time together in the kitchen. My teenage daughter now loves to cook as a result of this, and we’ve had a lot of fun in the kitchen preparing meals together.
Everything from car maintenance to laundry can be enjoyable when we have the proper attitude. Give praise and show appreciation for all your teen is doing. Make time just for them, which demonstrates how important they are to you.
Knowing that they are headed for adulthood can cause some teens to panic or even stick their head in the sand, avoiding anything that even looks like adulthood. This is where a real heart-to-heart comes in. Reassure your teen that feeling overwhelmed is normal and that while he or she doesn’t know the future, God does. And he assures us that it’s good (see Jeremiah 29:11).
As parents we can also become overwhelmed at our children approaching adulthood. (Weren’t they just born yesterday?) But we can find peace and comfort in knowing that God desires nothing but good for our precious teenagers.
As we faithfully parent our teens, we can rest assured that their transition into adulthood, while not always flawless, will be successful nevertheless. And by God’s grace, each subsequent generation shall be blessed because of them.
Tammy Darling is a freelance writer from Three Springs, Pennsylvania, who recently self-published her first two books.