Helping Teens Learn Self-Sufficiency

Easy ways to teach kids independence

One of the biggest and most important journeys of adolescence is learning to look after one’s own needs, and it’s important not to procrastinate teaching those lessons. While it can be tricky, seeing the beginnings of financial and personal independence in children can be one of the most rewarding experiences a parent can have. Here are a few ideas to think about as you navigate these challenging waters.

1. Be there to help

Surprisingly, children who had active help with homework and hobbies growing up tend to be better problem-solvers and critical thinkers as adults. When children confront problems without help, it can be very discouraging when they get stumped—and many come to believe that they’re “just not cut out for” math, or English, or athletics, or whatever they’re stuck on. Kids who get help tend to have a much healthier idea of what’s possible for them.

The challenge, then, is to help them stay on task through the rough spots, while still making room for kids to chew through the problem to the best of their ability. Instead of walking your teen through the problem they’re doing, find a similar problem to walk through—and then challenge them to apply the same principles.

2. Bring them along for chores and errands

This might be a tough one to implement at first, but bringing your teen along while you do chores and errands is a great way to teach responsibility by example, and also provides plenty of time to talk. My mother used trips to the grocery store to teach me about marketing, basic math, and brand skepticism—all of which help me navigate my life to this day. Even though I hated walking right past things I wanted at the store, she taught me how to be patient and wait for things I wanted—which is a skill that is not taught very well in our society.

3. Encourage entrepreneurship

Just like with homework, it’s easy to be too helpful as well as not helpful enough. We recently had a college student show up for an interview with his mother, who had written up her son’s resume and demanded to be part of the interview process. (Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.)

Don’t be a personal assistant—be a coach. Help your teen start a business—encourage them to design letterhead, help them type up a resume, and brainstorm people you know who might be willing customers. Teens can do all the same jobs they’ve done since our grandparents’  time, but small business technology has reached a point where they can reach a global audience, accept mobile payments from their smartphones, and even access free accounting software to manage their money.

4. Teach them about budgeting from your own experience

Most teens understand intellectually that “money doesn’t grow on trees” and your resources are limited, but to a teenager making less than a hundred dollars a week flipping burgers, adult levels of income and expense are hard to really grasp.

Help your teens understand how you manage your money, and why. Saving, budgeting, and tracking bills is not something kids instinctively understand, so don’t neglect the opportunity to teach.

[About the author: Shawna Davies is a staff writer for Going Cellular. She has a talent for organization and helping people navigate new technology. She’s a confessed gadget freak, but when she gets out of the house, she loves spending time at the lake with her husband and teenage son. They live in Beaumont, Texas.]

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