The choice of education for kids is something that is at the back of my head basically from the moment of getting pregnant (like it is with many other parents out there). This not only in the context of choosing the right school or opting for homeschooling, but also in general how to equip kids for life in the best way possible. I started talking about this subject in two previous posts – about future-proofing kids (link) and about choosing extracurricular activities (link). Today I would like to elaborate on my list of essential everyday life skills to teach a kid before he or she is off to a grown-up life, namely somewhat before the age of 18 years.
Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Stanford Dean, in her article “What are the skills every 18-year-old needs?” identified the following things that according to her every “fresh grown up” must be able to do:
- talk to strangers
- find his way around
- manage his assignments, workload and deadlines, prioritize tasks
- contribute to the running of a household
- handle interpersonal problems
- cope with ups and downs
- earn and manage money
- take risks
Important skills – fair enough. I would like, however, to modify and somewhat expand this list to include also the skills which I consider essential. I will take the list of Lythcott-Haims as a basis and will just add what I see fit.
1. talk to strangers
That sounds kinda controversial. You hear a lot that parents are instructing their little ones actually not to talk to strangers, but then comes the time that they actually have to. The question of safety is a matter of a separate discussion and I will definitely talk about it in one of my following posts. But for now, it is not about that.
Talking to strangers purely on the practical side means that a kid:
- has to be able to establish a contact with the person unknown to him;
- has to be able to communicate his wishes or problems clearly;
- has to not be afraid of actually speaking up or asking for something.
I will give you a silly example: when we go to the supermarket with our 3.5-year-old there at the counter is a jar with candies. We always encourage our daughter to actually ask the sales person for a candy – not being afraid to speak up and clearly and politely ask for what she wants. We strongly believe that this is the skill she will need on numerous occasions in her grown-up life.
2. find his way around
I think that by the time our kids will reach the age of 18 they will know Google maps, or whatever analogue is going to be invented, inside out. There will probably also be other technological innovations that we cannot even imagine now. So I am not that afraid about actual geo-location that the author was talking about.
What is important for me though is twofold:
- first, the ability to find your own way in life (to do what you really want, not just follow your friends for example) and
- second, the ability to figure out where and how to search for information, help, support when you need it.
For instance, a kid wants to study marine biology. Great! He or she has to be able to find where that would be possible, what are the admission requirements, scholarship options, housing, anything else.
Likewise, an example from an absolutely different field: voting. Mostly, voting rights are granted from the age of 18, yet to be able to vote a kid has to be able to make an informed choice. Thus, for me this ability to identify what is the information required and then be able to find it and interpret it to make an informed decision are very important skills.
3. manage his assignments, workload and deadlines, prioritize tasks
Somehow the author is very pessimistic about the ability of kids to do that, because as she says we always remind them. There is a grain of truth to that, yet I believe that the basic skill will be there in most of the cases. What is important in my view is:
- the ability to organize and focus, as well as
- the ability to see the big picture.
The latter I guess calls for some explanation. I believe that the ability to see the big picture is an underlying skill to be able to prioritize your tasks efficiently and to actually have the right focus. Also, seeing the big picture allows to better identify activities that are actually nothing but time wasters.
4. contribute to the running of a household
I don’t really foresee any major issue with this point as our kids are involved in household chores from very early on (as I have already described in my earlier post). Nonetheless, I would like to add another aspect – managing bills. Every household has bills: electricity, water, Internet, rent, whatever is applicable.
This question will come back later when I talk about money, but in the context of a household it is also important to understand how to compare service providers, how to find the most fitting one, how to arrange for the service, how to handle their bills – why would you do it manually, or why would you opt for an automatic payment, and so on.
Likewise, I will still come back to frugality later, but once again in the context of a household, a kid has to be able to compare different prices, products, offers, in order to find the best deal.
5. handle interpersonal problems and 6. cope with ups and downs
I will take these two together. Even though I do consider these skills important, I am a bit pessimistic about the ability of an 18-year-old to master these skills to perfection. Some basic abilities will be there anyway, as interpersonal problems, as well as ups and downs are unavoidable in life. However, it takes a lot of work to find the best way for yourself to deal with them. In this sense, I am more advocating for the need to be able to reflect on your emotions and actions. In a sense, it is self-reflection and a first, but confident, step towards self-knowledge.
7. earn and manage money
In this point the author talks about kids not having part-time jobs and getting pocket money just like that as the underlying reasons for the lack of responsibility, accountability, appreciation of the cost of things and general ability to manage money. I wouldn’t see it all that black and white. For me, neither a job nor pocket money is the root cause of any of the above. Likewise, responsibility, accountability and appreciation is not an exhaustive list with respect to managing money. I would add to this:
- understanding the concept of opportunity costs
- having a habit of saving
- being able to budget
- understanding possibilities of investing and ideally also already investing (a portion of) saved money
- understanding credit
- understanding insurances and being able to read “the small print“
Additionally, as I mentioned before, being able to compare and find the best deal is very important as well.
Related to managing money I consider it important for a fresh adult to understand retirement. That might sound counter-intuitive, yet I think that a kid has to be aware of the options and understand their pros and cons the sooner the better.
8. take risks
That is the last point the author mentions elaborating that by over protecting kids and “laying out the entire path for them” parents deprive them from the ability to understand that “success comes from trying and failing and trying again”.
Once again, I don’t necessarily see it in that light, nor do I completely agree with the definition of success. Yet, I do agree that being able to take risks is essential. In my view this skill is also to be nurtured from the very early childhood, by allowing to make mistakes (maybe even encouraging them) and by truly trusting the kid.
The above described list of everyday life skills is definitely not exhaustive, yet might provide some basis for reflection. What do you think? Which everyday life skills you consider important to know by the time someone turns 18?