6 life skills every teen needs to know before heading to college

Clearly, you want to do everything you can to make sure your child is prepared for college before you actually ship them off. And, while buying the right books, stocking up on dorm room essentials and making sure they have school supplies is probably high on your list, some parents can easily forget to teach their kids some basic life skills.

“Most students come to college lacking skills in at least one area,” Shannon Reed, a visiting lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, noting that one student told her that her roommate didn’t know how to use a microwave. “Almost every student shows up not knowing how to do something, whether it’s how to cook a simple meal, manage money, separate clothing for the laundry or live compatibly with strangers.”

It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, she adds — it’s just that most people are so used to doing these things as adults that “we don’t even realize how much we had to learn to do.”

Knowing how to cook a few meals on their own is a good life skill to teach your college-bound teen. (Photo: Getty Images)
Knowing how to cook a few meals on their own is a good life skill to teach your college-bound teen. (Photo: Getty Images)

While it’s easy to gloss over them or assume that your child knows how to do certain basic tasks, these skills are essential for your child’s emotional and mental development, licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. And making sure your child understands how to do basic life skills tends to lower their anxiety, make them better when it comes to tackling other life challenges and helps them to take better care of themselves as a whole, Reed says.

These are the big areas that experts say college-bound teens tend to be lacking in — but sorely need.

How to do laundry

It seems obvious, but you’d be shocked by how many kids don’t know how to do laundry. “I once had a first-year student ask me to help him figure out how to sort laundry,” Reed says.

That’s why it’s important that parents have their children do their own laundry “at least a few months before they leave for college,” but ideally sooner, home economics teacher Kay Miller tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “By the time they’re seniors in high school, they should be doing their own laundry.”

This is more than just showing them how to load a washer and dryer, where to put the detergent and how to fold their own clothes, she says (although that’s important, too). It also means covering how to treat stains and what not to do. “Once you use hot water on a stain, it will set,” Miller says, which is why she recommends washing a stain with soap and cold water, pre-treating it with a stain stick, and then putting it in the wash. “Let them know that if they spill something oily, or wine, they need to pre-treat it right away.”

Basic sewing skills

Clothes develop holes and buttons fall off — that’s just part of life. But throwing out a pair of jeans or a shirt after this happens is pricey and unnecessary, Miller says. That’s why she recommends that college-bound teens learn what she calls “basic clothing repair.”

The two biggest things they need to know are how to sew on a button and how to stitch up a rip, Miller says. “Get a basic sewing kit,” she advises. “You’ll need needles, pins, and thread — at least black and white.” If you’re not exactly sure how to do these sewing skills yourself or you’re not sure how to explain it to your child, look it up. YouTube has great tutorials.

Simple nutrition

You’ve probably been making your child most of their meals, but they may not fully grasp why you’ve been giving them the food that you’ve been serving. That’s why New York-based registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells Yahoo Lifestyle that it’s a good idea to go over some nutrition basics. “A good simple formula to teach is that you should always have some kind of protein, vegetable and complex carb,” Cording says. “I tell my college-age clients to aim for a quarter of your plate to be protein, a quarter carbs and the rest vegetables.”

It’s also important to teach your child that good nutrition can help give them more energy, boost their brainpower and ultimately help them to do better in school, Cording says, noting, “You’ll have better results when you stress that eating well is more about helping to make you a healthy, functioning human vs. saying you should eat healthy because it’s what you’re supposed to do.”

How to cook basic foods

No, your child doesn’t need to take cooking lessons, but they should know how to feed themselves if they can’t make it to the cafeteria in time or if they’re stuck indoors due to bad weather, Cording says. “Stuff that’s microwaveable is great,” she shares. That can include organic soups and oatmeal, as well as nut butters for sandwiches and nut bars for snacks — all of which you can help your child stock up on before you drop them off.

If you haven’t checked out microwaveable foods lately, you’re in for a surprise. “There’s so much innovation in the category of shelf-stable healthy foods,” Cording says. That, coupled with encouraging your child to keep some easy-to-store produce on-hand, like apples and bananas, should have them covered.

How to make — and stick with — a budget

It’s pretty unlikely that your child is going to be writing checks, but “they need to be able to do record-keeping of their finances,” Miller says. “It’s easy to just use a card and lose track of things.” She recommends encouraging your child to keep an online log or notebook to note how much money they have in a savings or checking account and what they’re spending. “Ideally, you’ll start them on this before they go to college,” Miller says.

If your child prefers to check their bank statements online, that’s fine, Miller says — but make sure they’re in the habit of actually looking at this given that identity theft and fraudulent charges can and do happen. “They need to be aware of what is going on, how to check on charges, and how to report something that doesn’t seem right,” she says.

Basic first aid

Sending your child off to school with a first aid kit is great, but make sure they actually know how to use it, David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. He recommends at least making sure your child understands that, if they get a cut, they should wash it with soap and water before slapping on a bandage. (Otherwise, they’re at risk of developing an infection.) “It’s also a good idea to make sure they know that if a cut continues to bleed for more than 10 minutes, go seek medical care,” Cutler says.

If your child doesn’t know how to do all of these skills right now, don’t worry — there’s still time to teach them. Mayer recommends teaching your child these skills at home, and then having them carry out the tasks several times under your supervision. You may surprised at how receptive your teen is to the whole process. “I’ve found that teens are often so nervous about college that they really appreciate having something, anything, that they can do to get ready — even if it’s just learning how to scramble an egg,” Reed says.

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