teen doing laundry

20 Basic Life Skills Your Teenager Should Have

20 things your teen should probably know how to do before they move out.

They’ve turned 18 or are approaching this milestone soon, but is your newly-minted adult ready to thrive on their own? Teaching our kids life skills for adults is so important. Yet we often don’t give it enough attention. How are your child’s #Adulting skills? 

Leaving the nest is no easy task, and research suggests that living independently may be increasingly difficult for today’s young adults. Though technically old enough to live on their own, many young people aren’t equipped to do so. According to Forbes and the UK’s Independent, younger generations worldwide need to beef up their basic life-skills knowledge in order to succeed on their own.

As a child’s entrance into independent living approaches, space and freedom become even more important, as does the need for essential life skills for adults. Many kids don’t learn how to do basics, like wash dishes, prepare a meal, or use a hammer. So if you have a teen about to go out into the world alone, do them a favor and stop doing stuff for them that they should be doing themselves.

Here are 20 basic life skills for adults that will help get your child ready for the real world. Run through the list with your kid and see how many of them they know how to do. You can even use our handy dandy #Adulting chart, which you can print for free. We think the interactive sticker chart celebrating their path to independence is a great way to let our grown-up kids get in on the fun and lean into childhood one last time. Here are the things we believe all teens should be able to tackle before they leave home.

1. Do laundry, from start to finish. 

This includes basics, like reading garment labels, sorting by color or fabric, and knowing when to use the delicate cycle. If your child will be visiting laundromats, walk them through one beforehand and be sure to point out the change machine.

2. Shop for and make a meal.

If a dorm room is in your child’s near future, their microwave is about to become a go-to cooking tool. Prior to leaving your home, have your child pick up a few canned soups, frozen entrees, and instant noodle and rice dishes to experiment with (let them do this alone to experience grocery shopping). Not only will they learn to cook for themselves à la the microwave, they’ll have a few ideas of what they like and where to find those things in the store.  

3. Make their own doctor/dentist/general appointment. 

Half of the parents in this poll said their 18-year-old didn’t know how to schedule a doctor appointment, even though it’s probably one of the most important life skills for adults. Eighteen-year-olds are in charge of their health services, which means parents can’t access that information or intervene unless their child signs a form granting access to their medical information. It’s essential that your child feel comfortable calling their doctor or nearby health clinic to schedule appointments or get advice from a nurse, and it’s equally important that they know their medical history, allergies and how to fill out medical forms. 

4. Apply for a job or a gig. 

This is the first step on the road to employment, followed by well-written cover letters and comprehensive résumés. If your high school senior hasn’t filled out a job application before, look up a few examples online and chat about filling in the blanks. For some extra fun, subject them to a few interview questions. They’ll love it.  

5. Open a new account. 

Maybe it’s a gym membership, library card, credit card, or bank account—either way, your child will be opening up new accounts in their name at some point along the way. With each new account comes responsibilities, like paying late payment fees on credit cards, monitoring gym membership dues, or keeping track of borrowed books. Give them the rundown on creating and managing personal accounts. 

6. Create a monthly budget and then live on it. 

Whether you’re providing financial assistance or your child is officially on their own, it’s essential to their success that they learn to track their spending and live within their means. They can get started by downloading a free budgeting app, like Mint, to their phone or creating a monthly budget that includes total monthly income and expenses.

7. Learn how to tip. 

Next time you dine out, challenge your child to calculate a 15- to 20-percent tip without using their phone. An easy way to figure it out is to round up the tax on the bill and double it. You can find other tip-calculating strategies here

8. Bank online and in person.

Can they log in to their account online and check their balance? Transfer money from savings to checking? Deposit money, using the drive-up window? Walk into the bank and not feel surprised to see all the employees behind a wall of thick plastic? Handle you asking all these questions all at once? If they can, then they’ve already tackled one of most essential life skills for adults.

9. Pay bills. 

Be it a tuition bill or cell phone bill, if your kid is financially responsible for paying it, make sure they know how to log on to payment portals, set up auto-pay, or schedule reminders for when bills are due. 

10. Learn how to mend something or sew on a button. 

This is an easy way to help your child save a few dollars on clothing repairs and new clothing in general. Buttons pop off, and seams rip. Rather than deeming the clothing ruined or paying someone to fix it, teach your child how to make these repairs themselves. Then they can charge all the students who don’t know how to sew a small fee for replacing buttons and mending seams.  

11. Get a driver’s license.

Nothing says freedom quite like a license to drive. It’s one of the life skills for adults that comes with huge responsibility and builds character via sharing the road with others. If your child already has their driver’s license, make sure they know that it will expire and will eventually need to be renewed. If your child is taking a set of wheels to their next destination, put the responsibility of car ownership on them before they drive off. Let them buy and refill the washer fluid, check the tire pressure, replace a wiper blade, and get an oil change. 

12. Use a map or an app to go somewhere new. 

Your kids (and probably you, too) rely on Google Maps to get them places, but what happens if their phone dies? Or their GPS’ quickest route goes through the worst part of town? Or they have to decipher maps at a subway station? While technology efficiently gets people from point A to point B, map-reading skills shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should learning what neighborhoods are riskier to drive through. Now that they can read an actual map, using GPS apps should be easier than ever. Make sure your child has one on their phone and knows how to use it.  

13. Talk to someone in customer service to solve a problem. 

Technology is amazing, but sometimes it breaks. Calling or emailing customer support is a must-have skill, and things like knowing where to find your computer’s IP address or how to reconnect a streaming device makes troubleshooting easier. Next time technology breaks at your house, give your 18-year-old the joyful task of calling to get it fixed. 

14. Ask a stranger for help.

Admitting help is needed—whether it’s to a professor or coworker—intimidates even the most confident of souls. If the opportunity arises, encourage your child to seek out help face to face from someone they don’t already know, like a school staff member or sales clerk. And remind them that asking for help shows their commitment to learning and achieving. No doubt they’ll miss hearing words of wisdom like this from you when they move out.  

15. Memorize their social security number. 

There is no escaping the need to memorize this nine-digit number. The alternative is your child carrying around the actual card or keeping a picture of it on their phone, which works great until that phone or card gets misplaced. While they’re already memorizing numbers, add learning their new address to the list and having your phone number tattooed across their heart as well.  

16. Use public transportation.

The most affordable mode of transportation is public, so get your 18-year-old acquainted with the bus and subway routes nearby as well as how to buy tickets to ride (usually an app or card that can be preloaded with funds). Even if they have a car, using public transportation will be one of the life skills for adults your child will appreciate should their wheels break down. Also have them download a ride-hailing app and learn how to use it safely. 

17. Write, address, and mail a letter. 

No doubt they’ll insist “no one sends actual mail anymore,” but indeed, humans do still use snail mail to communicate. In fact, the US Postal Service reports that 187.8 million pieces of mail are delivered every day, and sooner or later one of those pieces of mail will come from your child. 

18. Return something to the store.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but returning an unwanted, damaged, or ill-fitting item is a regular part of life. Make sure your kid feels comfortable doing it.

19. Vote. 

Step one, have your 18-year-old register to vote before they leave home. This website lets them do it in two minutes. If your child will be moving out of state, they can mail an absentee ballot if they’re registered to vote in their home state. This website will help them locate polling places. Having a say in the electoral process is one of most crucial life skills for adults.

20. Take over a chore a parent usually does.

There are probably dozens of chores your child can take off your plate. Maybe it is actually taking your plate and clearing and cleaning all the dishes after meals. Or taking out the garbage and recycling on the designated day. Perhaps it’s cleaning the bathroom. Or vacuuming and dusting. Hey, how about mowing the lawn! See? There are so many to pick from! Giving your child more ownership of the household duties helps them learn that it takes effort from all to keep the place functioning (and its inhabitants happier). 

This list could obviously go on and on, and you and your child can add to it as needed. Our hope is that this starter list opens the door to discussing responsibility and safety, excitement about what lies ahead, and the pride you and your child feel about what your “all-grown-up” kid has already accomplished. You and your 18-year-old are about to take a big next step as you both prepare for more independence, and we wish you both the best of luck!