Kids Need Real Life Skills Before They Leave Home

Close up shot of a book spine that is titled Parenting by Tripp resting on a woman's lap

It’s official – Jill and I are now empty-nesters. Well . . . sort of. With Sophie a freshman at Bryant, Phoebe off to Worcester Poly-Tech, and Maeve finishing up her last year at Quinnipiac, it is quiet around the house with just Jill, Louie our bulldog, and me.   You know, I often wonder as of late, how did that happen? It really hit me this past month that soon they’ll be on their own. They just grow up so quickly — I look at these smart and talented young ladies and I remember when we walked them into kindergarten class. And now we a have become long distance parents!

Unfortunately, I believe that far too many kids are not well-prepared for life after high school in more ways than one. And in many situations, it wasn’t really their fault. I see too many kids who live in homes where their parents do practically everything for them. For them, college can be a real shock because mom and dad aren’t there to handle every obstacle that comes their way. Real life doesn’t work this way, so it’s up to us as parents to consciously guide our kids to be independent and self-sufficient before sending them out on their own.

As a parent, you always wonder if you did enough to prepare them for the real world, in both big ways and small. For example, at a basic level, they should know that sheets should be changed more than once a year. That toilets don’t get cleaned by themselves. They should know where the outside trash-can is. And how to take the recycling bins to the curb on Wednesdays.  They need to realize that paid-for car insurance, and cell phones, are not God-given rights. And even the difference between Tylenol & Motrin.

These are examples of the many little things kids should know before they leave home, whether it’s off to college or their first apartment. But there’s more, a lot more in fact. And with the school year beginning, this is a perfect time to delve into some of these larger areas as I ruminate on some of the areas I think are important, whether or not I was completely successful in my own attempts with my young ladies.

One crucial life skill that kids need is to learn how to effectively communicate. If they find themselves struggling to handle an assignment, for example, the worst thing they can do is to put off thinking about it, hoping it’ll resolve itself.  Kids need to learn that while they have resources available to them, they alone are responsible for reaching out and asking for help. The parent is no longer there to check that  homework is done . . . and done right! This type of accountability now belongs to them, and they might need a reminder that they need to communicate their struggles and be responsible for the solution. This will likely include letting their teachers know they need help, or asking a classmate to tutor them, even temporarily.

Their health and hygiene are also crucial areas. For example, without mom and dad making regular meals, they now need to make choices about their nutrition. The school’s impressive cafeteria can easily tempt a freshman who’s excited to eat whatever they want. We’ve all heard of the Freshman 15, right? The vast supply of junk food – and perhaps alcohol – can have a negative effect not only on their weight, but on their anxiety levels, too. After all, a healthy body, mind, and soul go hand in hand.

Encourage your kids to think about how important good nutrition is to their well-being. You might help anticipate the choices they’ll have to choose from and do some sample meal-planning ahead of time. Make sure they’re familiar with the local or school fitness center, and how a good workout not only benefits the body but soothes the mind, too.  And make sure to remind them to take time every day to say thanks for the blessings they receive.

And of course, we have to talk about money for this discussion to be complete. I am regularly shocked by how few college aged students know how to manage their own money, let alone start saving or investing for the future. Credit card companies routinely target students with credit card offers, often charging astronomical interest rates. This makes it far too easy for a student to rack up a hefty balance, using it for food, drinks, movies, and other consumable goods. They need to learn the difference between good debt and bad debt. To budget their money. How to “balance a checkbook”, so to speak. 

Our youth, our future, need to understand these financial basics before they can reach the next level– starting to invest. Unfortunately, financial and investing basics are woefully under-taught in schools these days, so it’s our job as parents to be proactive in educating them on this critical life skill.

We all love our kids and want them to be successful in life. Sometimes that means stepping back from doing everything for them and helping them learn to be independent. Yes, they will make mistakes, but our role is to be there to educate and guide them how to be adults and good citizens. 

So as always – be vigilant and stay alert, because you deserve more!

Have a great week.

Jeff Cutter, CPA/PFS is President of Cutter Financial Group, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor with offices in Falmouth, Duxbury, and Mansfield, MA. 

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