If you ask me one of our main goals as parents is to launch kids into adult life who are responsible, independent and resilient. With those goals in mind in this episode I hope to inspire those of you parents with older kids to seize the day and open up your minds to new ideas on how to head in that direction.
In Silicon Valley our kids get lots of experience academically. They know what their grades are and how to access their online school portals. They know about homework and exams and schedules. That’s great training for getting through school but what is easy to neglect is how to train them to experience living day to day that they will face once they are out of the bubble known as home. We want them to flourish academically but often by doing so we rob them of responsibility for knowing how to live a full life beyond the walls of our homes and schools.
In this episode we’ll talk about how to get our older kids, teens and tweens, to experience the bigger picture stuff and expose them to some of the messiness of life in a loving, supportive environment where they might even mess up some. Everything from chores they should know how to do on their own to handling money, cars and how to get a part time job. I’ll talk about planning vacations in addition to how to handle routine paperwork and cooking. It’s sort of a laundry list of items I think any parent should consider when training your kids for the future.
First off, HOME STUFF OTHERWISE KNOWN AS CHORES
This is the easiest of the chores to turn over to your kids. Whether they do their laundry or not really only affects them if you can put up with the potential of smelly clothes or a smelly room. You teach them how to use the washer, how to separate clothes into darks and lights, how to spray stains and what the capacity of the washing machine is.
When I turned over laundry to my sons, I did all those steps for teaching them but we still stumbled on something that not even I knew. Did you know that clothes can mildew if they sit in the washer for days? I’ll tell you, it was certainly stinky, and my son used google to figure that one out. He got to teach me! It was certainly an affordable mistake and I’m so glad we could lovingly learn a solution together, no yelling, screaming or nagging needed.
Every kid should be able to cook a few basics before they leave your home whether it’s mac ‘n cheese or scrambled eggs. I knew a parent whose child went off to college not knowing how to scramble an egg and the college had no room in the dorms, so their daughter had to go into an apartment that first year. Well, the dad took off work and went to stay nearby so that he could help his daughter with getting used to dealing with food – buying food at a grocery store and learning to cook. Wow. It really blew me away and that is certainly an extreme example, but I do regularly run into parents who don’t want their kids in the kitchen because they’d make a mess. If that’s you, please let your kid make a mess and then, show them how to clean up! That’s part of the process. You show them how to restore the kitchen to its original condition. But there can be so much joy in a family kitchen where kids own cooking a meal all the way from selecting a meal to shopping, chopping and sauteing or grilling. In the summertime, we had our boys cook twice a week. One of the days one would choose a main meal and the other would choose a side to go with it then they’d switch the second day. It really helped instill in them a love and enjoyment for cooking together but also the process of taking care of getting food onto the table.
Teaching your kids how to clean sinks and toilets as well as vacuum and how to clean windows so there aren’t streaks is what I’m talking about. If there’s a clog in the toilet, show them how to clear it and the next time, they get to do it. Show them how to prevent toilet rings and deal with calcium buildup if you have hard water. These are all sorts of things that we adults take care of way too much. Have them clean the hair out of the drain in the bathtub or shower or take down cobwebs or clean the dust off of ceiling fans or light fixtures. If you want to be creative, hold a family meeting and come up with a list of the chores in the house they’ve never done before and set a goal for how many they do each week of the summer. Whether it’s three a week or one a week, have it be something.
Summer is a wonderful time to get out as a family and teach your kids about trimming and mowing lawns. Let them learn about clippers and weed pullers as well as fertilizers and bug control. Ants, rats, mice, roaches and other pests are something they should know about. Yes, they can be yucky and gross but… life isn’t all roses, is it?
Have your kids help paint their room or a fence or a house. Let them know how much work it can be and that being careful with paint is really important. Knowing how to clean brushes, open paint cans and store paint for future use helps give them perspective on what it takes to make a house look nice. If you want and can afford it, pay them for this extra work.
Now, let’s move on to more ADMINISTRATIVE roles outside the house.
If there’s one skill that I think parents today neglect more than any other it’s how to deal with money. If you have a teen, they should have a checking and a savings account with an ATM card. If you give your kids any money, transfer it using some online method. I have a whole podcast about dealing with money and you should really implement all of it but, if you don’t have time, at least do this part. You want your kids to learn about running out of money and overdrafts and how to write a physical check even if hardly anyone does it anymore. My boys were a bit shocked at how little their peers in college knew about how to handle their finances and how most of them had their parents paying and keeping track of the bills that needed paying. I gave my boys lump sums of money to cover their tuition, rent and other living expenses. We talked about how to manage that money and when bills needed to be paid either online or by sending checks. They knew the money was limited and needed to be treated with respect. It can be scary but these life lessons with money allow them to grow and you need to let them do that while you can be around to help them.
Filling Out Forms
Whether it’s going to the doctor’s office and being handed a clipboard with forms to fill out or a permission slip to go on a field trip, your child needs to do all the filling in the spaces, all but one. My boys knew that the only thing I’d be doing with forms once they hit about 5th grade was signing them. All of this form filling out stuff flows into their college app process. They need to own the process and set up all accounts and signups for things like the SATs and ACTs as well as submitting their forms to colleges. I’m not saying you can’t coach and assist but they need to do the grunt work themselves. It takes time and they need to know that if they want something, it’s worth the time invested. If you’re doing all the filling out and submitting, you’re robbing them of owning the process and their lives.
Get a Job
One area more than any other that kids learn about responsibility and money at the same time is having them get a job. It can be a part-time summer job at an ice cream place or summer camp, at a restaurant or a construction site or they could be a nanny for a family or a dog walker. It could be year-round or just the summer. The encouragement I want to give you all is for it to be something, anything! It was always interesting to see how kids who became lifeguards had to learn about how to vie for schedules or trade slots to go on vacation. They had to learn to deposit their checks and that they had to wait to get paid. For my son at a restaurant, he learned about shared tips and how some workers worked harder than others. Another kid was 18 and old enough to drive for DoorDash, He got to learn about how some folks are generous with tips and other people don’t give a dime. They learn sooooo much that a school can never teach them. For some kids it helps them solidify plans to go to college so they can get better paying jobs. Not a bad outcome to say the least.
Alarm Clocks/Keeping On Time
Your kids need to own their own time. Let them have the natural consequences of disappointing or pissing off teachers, coaches or friends. Let it be their deal, not yours. The more we continue to own their schedule and nag them to keep on time, the less they need to keep track. Let your kid be late for soccer practice or to their violin lesson. Let them forget to turn in a paper that you know is due. The earlier you let them own their own time, the less painful the mistakes will be to correct. Middle school is a much gentler place to learn lessons about time, don’t you think? Again, no yelling or telling needed. Just let them own it.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to take a vacation as a family, allow your kids to do some planning and research. By middle and high school, they are experts at roaming around on the internet, let them plan one day of your trip from the museums or sporting events to where to eat or stop to fill up your car. Let them help pack the family car to get all that camping gear in. It’s hard work and takes practice especially when you’ve got lots of stuff. If you’re taking an airline, have them help look up flights and input things like frequent flyer numbers and all the logistics with baggage and hotels. Even if you’re just taking a hike locally, let them pick a new hiking location instead of you announcing where you’re hiking. Share the load and let them learn!
If your teen drives or plans to drive you really need to seize the day. If you have the opportunity and the financial means, please have your kids learn how to drive when they are in your home. I’m in California and kids here can get a learners permit at 15 and ½ and can drive at 16 but have to have a learners permit and drive with a parent or an adult for 6 months. However, once they turn 18 the 6 months of practicing with an adult drops away. If they get lucky with their behind-the-wheel test at that point they can pass without much practicing at all.
In Silicon Valley, parents think they are doing their kids a favor by letting them focus on academics and not worry about driving. However, here’s what happened to a friend’s son. This dad allowed his son to only focus on academics. He graduated from high school, spent one month learning to drive, took his test, passed and then flew to college and didn’t drive again until the next time he was home. How good a driver do you think he was? My gut says he was still too nervous to go on a freeway and he’ll be a nervous driver potentially for a long, long time. I have to admit that teaching my boys to drive was nerve wracking and one of the hardest and scariest things I did as a parent, but it really helped give them time to grow and respect driving and the responsibility they had when behind the wheel.
In addition to training them to be a good driver, we need them to know about car insurance by having them help pay for their portion and car maintenance. Washing and vacuuming a car is the first step and then moving on to things like changing the oil and knowing how to check tire pressure and when to do all those things. Even if very few people these days actually change their own oil, we can at least have them go to an oil change service center to learn what that’s like. Hey, it can help you out as well since after the first time you go together, they can do it for you.