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Life Lessons: Help Your Child Build Skills Essential for Independence

how to foster the knowledge they need for eventual adulting

Last month, students filled the gymnasium at Grapevine High School. It wasn’t a basketball game or a college fair. The kids were there to learn about insurance—another life skills that typical teenagers don’t think about.  

 Brooke Bingham isn’t your typical teenager. 

 “Sitting in my AP classes, I hear a lot of my peers say, ‘When am I ever going to use this in real life?’” notes Brooke, a senior at GHS who will go on to Texas A&M University. “That’s why I did the financial literacy program.” 

 Yes, that big event that taught Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District students essentials for adulthood was the brainchild of, well, a child. OK, a young adult—two young adults, actually. Brooke and fellow senior Elnora Marshall have organized the fair for two years as a project for DECA, an international high school and collegiate organization. 

 A car dealer talked about how to buy a car. Brooke’s father explained insurance. (“They didn’t know what a deductible is,” he says. “No clue.”) A real estate agent discussed the home buying process. After collecting stamps in “financial passports,” students had a chance to win gift cards or Dallas Mavericks tickets. 

 “It was a huge success,” says Kate Burkhart, a GCISD teacher and DECA advisor. “These kids are ahead of the game. GCISD is very supportive of real-world skills.” 

 Brooke began learning real-world skills inside the classroom back in eighth grade, when Burkhart taught her Human Services course. 

 “Human Services students learn everything from how to do laundry and sew a button to managing money and early childhood development,” says Burkhart. 

 Ah, early childhood development—the electronic baby unit 

 Staying up all night over the weekend with my ‘baby’ was very eye-opening,” recalls Brooke. “It was for a lot of my peers as well.” 

 Not enough teenagers are getting those eye-opening, real-world lessons (electronic baby or otherwise). Cynthia Bing, director of outreach services and mental health promotion at the University of Texas at Arlington’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center, says it’s not uncommon for freshmen to arrive on campus needing assistance with time management, stress management and budgeting. 

 Learning Life Skills at School

While many schools offer Family and Consumer Sciences (the modern term for home ec), those courses are not universal, according to Jared Cappers with FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) Texas. 

 “When schools are looking to trim, it doesn’t come from the core curriculum or athletics,” Cappers says. “There’s a belief that Family and Consumer Sciences lessons are taught at home. But families aren’t the same as they were even 15 or 20 years ago.” 

 Or there are other areas of focus. Kids are busy with honors classes, extracurricular lessons and club sports. So why make time to ensure your kids have basic skills? 

 “It goes back to being a well-rounded graduate. Do you want your kid living at home with you forever?” asks Cappers, only half joking. 

 While Human Services has remained fairly popular in GCISD, part of that may be due to eighth graders getting a high school elective credit for the class. 

 “Our biggest struggle is helping parents see the value, admits Burkhart, who taught Human Services before transitioning to hospitality and tourism instruction. “But students learn so much in regards to their foundation. They’re learning social and emotional skills, work ethic, conflict resolution. I’m a huge fan of it.” 

 Burkhart recommends talking to your child’s school counselor to find out what Family and Consumer Sciences offerings are available on their campus.  

 Life Skills Camps

A variety of camps teach these lessons outside school. Tarrant County College’s College for Kids, for example, incorporates some life skills offerings, such as pet care, quick cooking and “money and life” math. The Hockaday School’s co-ed Summer at Hockaday includes classes on subjects like etiquette and leadership 

 “Parents are increasingly looking for experiences that will give their child an opportunity to develop life skills, while also providing an environment that encourages interpersonal skills to be developed,” says Melissa Curtis, director of auxiliary programs at Hockaday 

 Adulting at Home 

Such an experience doesn’t even need to be overly formal, Curtis reveals. “One of the best settings for life skills discovery in the young age group is the playground—where friendships are formed, negotiations are made, coordination is increased and imaginations blossom.”   

 And even if families have changed over time, parents still play a major role. 

 “The author of Screamfree Parenting introduced me to the idea that the goal is to ‘apprentice adults, not raise children,” says Dallas mom Jennifer Norris. Norris and her husband help their children—an 8-year-old son and 14-year-old tripletsput these skills into practice. 

 “I (very reluctantly) let our housekeeper go, and we rely on everyone … to do their jobs,” says Norris. 

 That includes packing for travel, cleaning, doing laundry and cooking. “I love the independence and confidence it is building,” says Norris. And there’s an added benefit: Things get easier [for parents] when kids can do for themselves.” 

 For Brooke Bingham, it was a combination of what she learned from her parents and the lessons outside home that prepared her for college and beyond. 

 Life skills are huge,” her dad, Brian Bingham, says. “And Brooke has developed them. She’s ready for that independence.” 

Online Life Skills Lessons for Kids & Teens

Need some easy-to-access life skills resources? Check out these online programs: 

Set to Go is an online guide for students, parents and teachers to break down life preparedness. From teen life skills to mental health, Set to Go covers five essential topics to help your teen transition to their next stage.

Financial responsibility can be an overwhelming topic to discuss with kids. FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) offers a free downloadable curriculum, Money Smart for Young PeopleIt will guide you through those conversations, whether you have preschooler or a high school student.

Image courtesy of iStock.