The Adulting 101 Syllabus: 20 Life Skills I’m Teaching My Teens

About a month ago, I texted my 17-year-old daughter while she was out, asking her to stop by the grocery store and pick up toilet paper. Once she handed me the goods, you would have thought I asked her to pay for Hamilton tickets from her checking account. “Do you know how much this cost?” she asked dramatically. “It was $13.99 before taxes. Can you Venmo me that amount now?”

While I thought it was funny, it also hit me that maybe it was time for  “Adulting” lessons for my daughter and almost 14-year-old son. We spend an enormous amount of energy (and money!) as parents making sure our kids are appropriately learning the skills needed for sports, playing a musical instrument, preparing for the SAT, and excelling in multiple subjects in school — but do we ever sit down and explain a household budget? Do they understand credit card interest? Do they know how to clean a toilet? How to sort laundry? Prepare meals?

Learning how to do laundry is a life skill I’m teaching my teens. (@crystalmariesing via Twenty20)

So I had my “aha” moment replacing the empty toilet paper roll hanging on the wall with not a speck of paper left (note to self: add this atrocity to the Adult 101 Syllabus) and decided this would be the summer they would learn the skills needed to face life as an adult. Because I don’t care how much money you have, every teenager should know how to do laundry and clean a shower before graduating high school.

Life skills, aka “Adulting” lessons for teens

The Adulting 101 class is going to be wide-ranging yet comprehensive. Subject matter will include:

  • meal planning and preparation,
  • learning how to use online bill pay,
  • understanding how insurance works (home, car, health),
  • cleaning a house properly,
  • yard maintenance,
  • laundry lessons,
  • debt and how to stay out of it,
  • budgeting,
  • understanding taxes (to include payroll, local, property, and federal).

Soft skills for teens

Some of the “soft skills” to be acquired during summer include being a good roommate. This means:

  • cleaning the hair out of the sink,
  • clipping nails over a trash can,
  • pushing chairs in after getting up,
  • not leaving wet towels and dirty clothes on the bathroom floor
  • throwing away empty cereal boxes.

Pop quizes on adulting

Other adulting skills have been a lifetime in the making, but there will be pop quizzes to ensure knowledge, including:

  • saying please and thank you as necessary,
  • looking people in the eye when talking to them,
  • disengaging from electronic devices at dinner and around the company in general,
  • showing kindness to strangers,
  • being on-time,
  • keeping promises.

It’s equally vital that we teach these skills to our boys and girls without gender bias. My daughter isn’t too fragile to put mulch down in the flower beds, and my son isn’t too macho to cook dinner. Both of them need to be able to care for themselves, including knowing when the car oil needs to be changed and when to throw out the egg carton.

I know a few adults who were thrown into a tailspin after divorce or the death of a spouse because they had split household chores into traditional gender roles and were left to figure it out under the most stressful of circumstances.

Because as simple as all this seems, many young people and older adults genuinely struggle with the daily tasks of being an adult. Many loving parents want their young people to grow up independent and strong, yet they haven’t allowed their kids to do the tasks that enable them to be that way. The best thing we can do is give our kids a chance to practice now for what they need to know later.

Full disclosure: it’s not going to be fun for my husband or me explaining FICA taxes or sitting over a computer watching them type painfully slowly the amount due for the water bill for last month (and yes, it is that much in that summer!). All of this will require extra time for both of us, but every second of explaining now will save a lot of future struggles when we aren’t with them.

One of my biggest dreams as a parent is that fifteen years from now, I will visit one of the kids at their home, proud to know that he/she has grown up to be a well-adjusted and decent human being. I will pull into the driveway of a house they bought and where the garbage cans aren’t left outside. I will walk to the kitchen, and there won’t be glasses and empty plates left on the counter.

The lights will be on because they paid their electric bill, and we will sit at a dining table they bought with their own money and eat from a recipe they found in a cookbook and couldn’t wait to make. We will sit around laughing and catching up, and no one will reach for a phone. Later, I will drift to sleep in a properly made bed with a slight smile, thinking that I may have made many mistakes as a parent — but at least I taught them the important stuff.

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About Kelly Tully

Kelly Tully is the author of the children's chapter book series, The Secret List, and the upcoming Young Adult novel, "The Map to Myself."  Her main goal as a parent of two teenagers is to raise kind, hardworking, decent kids that grow up to be thriving adults who never leave wet towels on the floor and don't confuse FICA taxes with a Ficus tree. Her website is

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