Preparing teens for the “Real World”: 5 important lessons

One of the most important responsibilities you have as a parent is to prepare your kids for adulthood. But what exactly does this mean?

Here are some of the things that it’s never too late to help your kids learn:

1.   The importance of communicating face-to-face with others.

This is a really important lesson, especially now in this age of 24/7 technology. Most kids are constantly texting, emailing, snap-chatting, tweeting and posting. These are all efficient means of communicating for sure, but when it’s their only way of communicating, it keeps them from developing the most important part of communication, which only comes from face-to-face interaction: making a real, human to human connection.

Communicating only via written word is very limiting and can actually hurt relationships. In writing, it’s impossible to gauge the tone in someone’s voice and it can cause a lot of misinterpretation and misunderstanding. (Have you ever tried to be sarcastic in writing? It does not compute!)

Also, hiding behind a screen encourages a boldness and bluntness that wouldn’t be there if the communication was face-to-face. Case in point: cyber bullying. Although bullies existed well before the Internet, online communication adds a level of anonymity that encourages a kind of boldness and cruelty I seriously doubt would ever happen in a face-to-face scenario.

Communication skills are learned skills, and practice makes perfect. Encourage your teen to talk face-to-face, using eye contact and listening skills, instead of hiding behind typed/texted words. Teens will need these interpersonal skills their whole lives…in relationships and in their careers.

2. How to handle (and learn from) conflict, failure, rejection and disappointment

Many of the teens I have worked with appear to have difficulty being told the word “No.” And I have heard a lot of adults commenting on how “today’s kids” are so entitled.  I believe that much of a teen’s entitlement is learned at home when parents do not teach their kids that sometimes the answer will be no, and sometimes they just have to live with it and move on.

I know it’s hard to say no, and even harder to stick with it sometimes. But it’s critical for your child’s development that he learns how to deal with rejection and disappointment. Teach him now while he is in the “shallow end” so that when he is an adult in the “deep end”, he is used to dealing with it when he doesn’t get what he wants when he wants it. For more information about how to help your teen develop resilience, click HERE.

3. How to be bored.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard a teen say, “this is boring” as a reason to avoid doing something, I’d be rich. I know that when I was a kid, I complained about being bored too. But in this day and age of video games and lightning-speed Internet connections, it is more common because kids are used to (and expect) being entertained 24/7.

Despite the fact that today’s kids are more likely by their very nature to crave constant interaction and stimulation, it is important that they also learn how to be still and silent. Quieting the mind and body not only results in health benefits like reduced stress and anxiety, but it also helps make room for creativity and problem solving. I have talked to a lot of creative people such as authors and artists and they tell me that it is in that stillness that many great ideas are born.

It will be hard at first (especially if your teen has ADHD), but, like anything, practice makes perfect.

If you want to help your teen with this, one good beginning step is to have him practice doing just one thing at a time: washing the dishes without also listening to music, for example; or playing with the dog without the TV on in the background.

As he gets more advanced, he could even try this: just sit out in nature and experience all four senses—sight, hearing, touch and smell. Teach him to ask himself:

“What do I see?” (Tell him to sit quietly and notice his surroundings in detail.)

“What do I hear?” (Tell him to just sit and listen. Tell him to notice what he hears—birds? Insects? Children playing?)

“What do I feel and smell?” (Tell him to start at his feet. Feel his feet touching the ground. How is his body temperature—is he warm or cool? How do his muscles feel? Are they tight and tense or relaxed? Take a minute to relax his muscles.)

(Note: This technique is very calming and is a great thing to do anytime a teen (or an adult for that matter!) feels anxious or stressed.)

4.  Perseverance 

I have a few friends who work in Human Resources in various companies, and their number one complaint about hiring young employees is how often they quit after working for only a short time. Some of this might have to do with the “I’m bored” subject discussed earlier. But overall, I think it’s due to the fact that kids are not taught how to persevere and work hard. Somewhere along the way, many kids are learning that when things get tough (or boring), you just quit.

Sometimes, kids don’t quit because they are bored. Sometimes they quit because they believe they are in over their heads and “can’t do it.” Often in classrooms, I see kids try things, like solving a math problem, for example, but then they give up, saying things like, “I’m not smart enough.”

The lesson we adults need to communicate to kids is that success comes not from luck or brainpower—it often comes from sticking with something.

There’s a saying by Thomas Edison that illustrates this topic this perfectly:

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

When kids quit when things get hard, they are going to miss out on opportunities.

Many teens will want to just stick to the things they know they are good at. It’s fine to encourage activities in those areas, but the real growth only comes if your teen pushes himself outside the comfort zone of his natural ability (and doesn’t give up when he realizes he has moved above the level of expertise he thought he had and has to work hard to get what he is trying to achieve).

Some teens who have been praised all of their lives for being smart often will not even try things they know they might not be successful doing because they are afraid of losing that label of being “smart”. Often when they hit that “this is too hard” point, they are tempted to give up.

If you want to help your teen with this, instead of praising him by saying, “You are so smart!” start praising him for how hard he works at something and for sticking with things even when they are hard, even when the initial passion fades and even (especially) if it’s outside of his natural ability.

Also, discourage him from quitting or giving up before the task (or sports season or set amount of lessons) is complete. (This would be a good place to practice your “telling him no” tip discussed earlier!) Explain to him that it’s normal to want to quit, but it’s important to replace that urge with the urge to complete something you start. Also, when the task is complete, talk to your teen about it—remind her how she wanted to quit and have her recognize how good she feels about herself now after sticking things out—even though it was hard.

5. How to set and achieve goals

Teach your teen how to set goals, large and small, how to pursue those goals, and make he knows that meeting them is a marathon, not a sprint.

Teens need to know that they really can have what they want but it might not come as fast or as “easy” as they expect. As I mentioned early, today’s teens are hard-wired for immediate results and instant gratification (think about texting, video games, etc.). Teens need to be taught and coached through long-term goal setting and delayed gratification. For more information about helping your teen with goal setting, click HERE.