About 11 years ago, I left behind my “required” education of high school and went out into the world. I left the nest. I no longer lived with a parent. I no longer had someone that woke me up before I needed to go to school in the morning. I no longer had someone reminding me that I had bills that needed to be paid. I no longer had someone paying most of those bills. It was just me and the world. It was terrifying and exhilarating.
Fast forward about one whole (tiny) month, I realized that I didn’t know how to do anything. I felt incompetent. I didn’t know how to budget. I didn’t know how to save. I didn’t know when I was supposed to take my car to a shop to get it looked at. I didn’t know how to manage my time properly. I didn’t know when a cut was deep enough that I needed to go to the hospital. I didn’t know how to find the motivation to get my booty out of bed to get to class at a university when I had the freedom to just hit the alarm button and sleeeeeep. Sleep was nice. I had been denied sleep for about 12 years in favor of going to school at the crack of dawn. We didn’t really have a choice, after all. School was a requirement.
But now I was free. Maybe I would just be late on my cell phone bill and use the money to go shopping instead. Or maybe I would eat out every day of the week because I could. Or stay up late. Or wear everything I owned until I was forced to lug my bag down to a laundry room lest I choose to go to school naked or in dirty underwear. I was only in college for a few months when I realized that I was running out of money. I was blowing it all. But I had a full-time class schedule. Like super full-time. I was living off of scholarship and grant money. I started out with a good amount. But I had never been handed such a large chunk of cash at one time before. I bought some new clothes. And an awesome new mini fridge. And the highest quality art supplies for my design classes. When I realized I was going to be out of money before the end of the semester (when more money came), I was panicked. I didn’t have time for a job. I didn’t know how to make the money last. Sure, not spending it would be an obvious idea, but I had no impulse control. Friends went out to eat, so did I. Friends went on a weekend lake trip, so did I. It was all disappearing before I even knew where it went.
Halfway through that first semester, I dropped out and lost my scholarships. I had to get a job or I wouldn’t be able to pay my cell phone, car insurance, gas, and food. I didn’t have anyone to depend on that would pay that for me. When just months before then, that was all I’d ever known. Sure, I had to pay my car insurance before then. But forking out $80 when you live in the comfort of someone else’s home is a lot easier than when you have to fork out $80 plus all living expenses. It was incredibly overwhelming. On top of that, I had never had a boyfriend (or even kissed anyone). I didn’t know how to maneuver any form of social scenes properly. I didn’t know how to date. I didn’t know how to set boundaries or stand my ground. Living under my parents roof, no wasn’t an option to say to them. I didn’t know how to say no. And that would haunt me for a good while.
The moral of this story is that there are certain things that should be absolutely essential to teach our kids before they are sent out into the world on their own. Many of these should be taught in high school or sooner. High school is “supposed” to prepare youth for taking flight on their own. But the current educational system just leaves a lot of holes in our wings, setting us up for an emergency crash landing. I love the analogy that school gives you a bunch of bricks, and when you leave, you are supposed to have some form of structure built up from all of those bricks. But in reality, all you have is a big pile of building supplies with no idea how to use them.
What every young adult needs to know before leaving home
1. How to repair things.
I was really lucky and had 2 tire blowouts within days of each other. I didn’t know I needed new tires. I didn’t know what to do when my tires blew out. Thank goodness for friends! Then, I was even more special and drove around on the little donut tire for about a month. Once my garbage disposal stopped working. I didn’t know there was a little reset button on it that sometimes fixes the problem. Or maybe avoid grinding up popsicle sticks and it won’t break in the first place.
Bottom line: Teach your kids how to prevent and repair common issues they may face; car issues (flat tire, new headlight, oil change time); basic home repairs; sewing or mending clothing and other textiles.
2. How to make things.
Make food that doesn’t come from a box. Make dirty clothes clean, the proper way. Make a grocery budget. Make a study schedule. Make true friends. Make dreams come true.
Bottom line: The point of raising kids is so that they can change the world by being productive, empathetic, innovative, and successful. They can’t do that if they starve and die. Or have a heart attack because they eat Taco Bell for every meal. Include your kids in these important daily tasks before they are expected to do it all on their own. They won’t magically know how to do it if they haven’t done it with their own hands.
3. How to talk to strangers.
Life is full of strangers. Everyone is a stranger until you meet them. Teachers, classmates, grocery clerks, cops, and even creeps.
Bottom line: Teach your kids how to talk to strangers. How to place orders, reserve rooms, fill out passport applications (or apartment applications), and how to stand up to people that aren’t being appropriate.
4. How to choose a path that is right for them.
All throughout my high school years we were told that college was the next step. Go to college. You must have a college degree if you ever want a good job. I didn’t have a clue that their were “alternative” paths to a successful life. Part of me wishes that I had known that I could pursue a creative lifestyle without a degree. But I’m thankful for the journey that I’ve had, even though I didn’t enjoy parts of it.
Bottom line: Show your kids all the options. Don’t put so much weight on college. It’s just a piece of paper for a lot of people. An expensive piece paper if you live in the United States. Yes, college is a great place to go when the person chooses that path and feels confident in it. But it shouldn’t be the only go-to next step after high school. Especially if the teen doesn’t know what they want to do. Allow them to see the world before dropping big bucks on school (unless you live in one of the awesome countries that university is free). Go on a trip around the world. Experience life before setting any big decisions in stone. And show them that their decisions aren’t really set in stone. If they don’t like a path that they’ve chosen, change it. Life is short. Do what you love.
5. How to handle stress.
Stress is an expected part of life. Maybe you get a poor grade on an exam, a tire blowout, a broken heart, or an unexpected loss. Life has plenty of curve balls to throw at people. Knowing how to handle the stress of life in a healthy way is essential for our mental health. We can teach our children how to handle it by modeling how to do it throughout their lives.
Bottom line: Give your children tools to manage their emotional health. Whether it be yoga, meditation, exercise, calling a friend or family member when they feel overwhelmed, drawing up schedules to help them manage time, and so on.
6. How to budget money.
This seems super obvious. I’m sure a lot of families teach their kids this. But I didn’t learn to budget. Sure, my mom said I needed to write everything down that I ever spent. But what a pain. (I still struggle with this.) I had never had any reason to really write anything down. We weren’t a wealthy family, so I never had allowance or any spending money that I didn’t earn myself once I got a job at 16. And only $80 of that spending money had to actually go towards something each month, which was simple to do. So I didn’t really keep track of the rest. I’ll be embarrassingly honest here. I used a debit card most of the time. And I had SO many overdraft fees because I didn’t keep track of what I was spending. And then I would get paid and the fees were gone and I still had some money in there. So I would just swipe swipe swipe. Then get another overdraft fee. And then say, ahhh F- it. I’ve already got one overdraft, I might as well just keep using it. It was like a credit card, basically. I had no accountability. Or responsibility. It was a terrible way to begin my credit journey. I didn’t know how important credit would be in my life. Honestly, I didn’t even know things like a credit score existed until I tried to get my first credit card at Victoria’s Secret. And I got one! It was so exciting. It felt like I got free money! And of course, I maxed out my huge limit. You know, the $300 I was approved for. Thank goodness that’s all I was approved for. It made it easier to pay off. It would be many years before I was able to heal my credit and credit score after the ignorant destruction I caused it at just 18 and 19 years old.
Bottom line: Teach your kids how to spend and save money. Teach them about credit scores and how important they are. Give them money to practice with. Come together every single day if you have to, and write down a budget, expenses, and income. For years. So that it is as much a habit as buckling up before driving is. This feels like such a huge thing that gets overlooked. We don’t magically learn how to manage money just because we are technically classified as adults at 18.
7. How to say no.
“Would you like this beer that I opened for you cute girl that I don’t know your name?”
“Would you like to smoke some weed down behind our dormitory?”
“Come on, just give me a kiss.”
“Can I copy off of your homework? I didn’t have time to do it last night.”
“I can drive you home. Don’t worry. I’ve driven plenty of times after drinking.”
“You know you want to have sex with me? It’ll be a great time!”
No matter how many conversations you have with your kids about appropriate situations, they will not learn to assert themselves and say no until they are able to practice and KNOW that their no is allowed and even encouraged. Even simple no’s to a parent. Do you let your child tell you, as a parent, no? If you tell them to do something, and they say no, what is your reaction? They need to be able to tell you no. For a zillion reasons. And most of them have to do with building the skills needed to protect themselves. I’ve had many physical situations in my late teens and early 20s that I didn’t want to participate in. And I even said no. And some of them happened anyway because they were able to push through my wispy Patronus of a no. And after they happened, I felt powerless and worthless. I felt like my no really didn’t mean anything at all. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. It took a lot of effort and self-discovery/growth before I knew my value and the power of my no. Now I would die fighting before I let someone push through my no when it comes to my body. And I let my kids tell me no. And I honor their no as often as possible. I wrote THIS article on why we need to encourage our children to tell us no.
Bottom line: Teach your child the power of no. Teach them about consent (<-Read here for a consent how-to). Empower them as often as you can.
8. How to protect yourself.
And I’m talking birth control. I grew up in a house where your birth control was supposed to be abstinence. Of course when your mom asks if you need birth control after having such stern talks about waiting for marriage to have sex, the answer is always going to be “no way! I don’t have sex!” I didn’t. Until I did. I was probably older than most. But I didn’t know how to get birth control. I knew condoms existed. I knew I hated taking pills. I knew I didn’t want to get pregnant. I honestly was so incredibly naive. I think my mom felt relieved that I seemed naive because it gave her a false sense of security that I wouldn’t make certain “mistakes.” But life caught up with me. And situations. And I was NOT prepared.
Bottom line: Talk about bodies and sex and normal human functions from birth. Don’t have “the talk.” Just talk. All the time. It’s not weird until you make it weird. And then it’s just awkward and no one wants to talk about it as they blush and pick at their fingernails.
9. How to listen to that little voice that says something doesn’t feel right.
That’s right, intuition. If something feels off, honor that. Leave. Call a friend. Call your mom. Guy at the bar that you’ve been flirting with suddenly gives you ick vibes? Call a friend to meet you or have an employee walk you to your car. Have a code with a friend so that they can suddenly call when a date is going bad so that you can get out of there.
Bottom line: Teach your kids to listen to that gut feeling that something is off; someone makes them feel uncomfortable; a situation doesn’t feel right. Listen to that feeling and follow it away from the potential danger. That feeling is embedded there for a reason, an extra sense. And that is to warn you of danger.
The most important skills that we can give our kids are the ones that will set them up for success. Many of the mistakes that kids make, myself included, come from lack of experience and guidance. And plenty come from lack of common sense. I hope to use my own mistakes and experiences as a reminder of the tools that I need to continue learning for myself (always a self-love journey), and also tools that I need to be giving my children before they need them.
What do you wish you would have known before you were on your own as a newly minted adult?