7 life skills to teach your teenager if they’re leaving home this autumn

·5-min read
First-time students head to a lecture (ALAMY/PA)
First-time students head to a lecture (ALAMY/PA)

It’s the day (almost) every parent dreads – when your offspring flies the nest, leaving you with that empty feeling inside – even though you know you’ve done your very best to help them handle whatever life throws at them.

But that doesn’t stop you from fretting and feeling that maybe, just maybe, you should have drummed home a few more vital life lessons, just in case everything you’ve taught them falls by the wayside the minute they walk out the door.

Whether they’re heading off to university or starting a new job away from home, here are the top tips you need to pass on to help them get the best start – and put your own mind at rest…

1. Tell them sleep will be their saviour

“Everything begins with sleep – your ability to concentrate, perform tasks, think rationally, your mood and your overall health and wellbeing, so it’s important you teach your children to get a good night’s sleep in what will be a strange place,” says Lucy Shrimpton, parenting expert and founder of The Sleep Nanny.

“Give them advice on how to acclimatise to their new home by bringing with them some familiar home comforts, such as duvet covers, pyjamas they feel comfortable with and books and music to help ease their night-time worries. Teach them how to create a nice, peaceful atmosphere, so their new room can be like their room back home.

“Encourage them to get into a decent morning and evening routine as this can really help their sleep pattern. While I’m sure there will be lots of partying too, it’s important for them to prioritise sleep and rest when they can,” says Lucy.

2. Encourage them to adopt an active social life

For students going to university for the first time, making a whole new group of friends can feel particularly daunting. “To help, encourage your teenager to get out socialising as much as possible,” says Lucy.

“While lots of them may not have left their home towns much, over the past 18 months many might not even have left their homes at all, so it’s important to help them improve their social skills over the next few weeks to give them the ability to relate to others, create connections and make friends.”

3. Guide them on their diet and alcohol intake

“Teach them to eat well with some simple recipes they can make for themselves,” suggests Lucy. “While they will probably be drinking more than they’re currently used to, it’s important they eat healthily and keep up an active lifestyle as much as possible, so motivate them to join groups that encourage this.”

Try showing them some simple recipes before they leave home, so you can pass on your culinary skills in person. “Just cook it side by side, with lots of praise, questions and laughter,” says Gill Hines, education and parenting consultant, and author of Later! A Guide To Parenting A Young Adult.

4. Show them the importance of getting to grips with chores

It’s not just cooking they’ll need to get a handle on – all those domestic chores they may not have taken any interest in while living at home will also need tackling. “Some parents will have always had chores for their young people (well done – research says regular chores increase resilience and coping skills), others will not,” says Gill. “They’re going to be responsible for all their belongings – washing, drying, putting everything away and getting work materials or books ready – so set them weekly challenges with a reward for doing it, such as some money for a night out with friends, that new book/bag they want, or tickets for something they want to see.”

5. Stress the importance of self-care and safe sex

Good personal hygiene is important for maintaining both physical and mental wellbeing. Gill says they also need to understand the importance of safe sex for maintaining their health. “Don’t be afraid to have a good, long chat about sex, STIs and HIV ” she advises. “Ask, don’t tell – ask what they know, what someone should do to avoid such things as much as possible, and where they can go for information and help.”

6. Teach them the difference between budgeting, spending and saving

Ruki Heritage, director of student experience at the University of Bedfordshire says: “Money management and budgeting is another really important life skill to learn. Whether they’re receiving a student loan or first pay packet, for many young people this will be the first time they’ve received thousands of pounds.”

“This money has to last for a long time, be it a semester or until their next pay packet, so knowing how long they have to make the money last will be a really good starting place,” she explains. “They should also make a note of all of their committed expenditure, such as rent, food, electricity and other costs including mobile phone bills/Wi-Fi or travel costs.”

As Ruki points out, your teen may well discover they have less disposable money than they think, and students may come to realise they need a part-time job to support their studies, so the sooner they know their financial position, the less pressure this will put on them later.

7. School them on behaving responsibly and on equality and fairness

“It’s essential they’re aware of the professional setting they’re entering at university, starting with showing up on time for classes and social meetings, being attentive and an active participant by focussing on whatever activity they’re taking part in,” says Ruki.

“Being open-minded and non-judgmental to others and to different points of view, respecting different beliefs, ways of life, sexual orientations and genders, and treating others with respect are all important skills we should not forget either,” she adds.

“And one final point – have fun. This is one of the first major steps they will be taking in life, so enjoy it!”

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