In the last decade of counseling I have found that some of my most interesting clients have been teenagers who were not 'out of control' or delinquent but rather more lost in the shuffle of real life. More often than not they were managing lives with addicted parents, visitation schedules that conflicted with their desire to be with peers, unemployed and depressed parents or just scared to death about moving onto the next phase of growing up - and going off to college on their own.
- I have heard 13 year old boys want to learn how to do their own laundry - so their 'cool shirt' was clean when they wanted it.
- I have heard 15 year old girls - having no clue how to do laundry -want to be able to do it so they could control when mom 'dumped it all on my bed and I wasn't ready for it'.
- I have had straight A High school students fearing the transition to college campuses because they didn't know how to do the basics - ironing, preparing meals, installing printer cartridges, taking car for repairs or managing their daily schedule.
This year seems to be a tough year for gainful employment for teens - especially those under 17 so I'm going to encourage my readers to shift the focus from demanding them to 'get a job' to use summer as a time to learn 'real life skills'.
Whether you believe it or not - your teen is probably playing 'learned helplessness' - a process where a person learns and uses being 'helpless' or without authority - to let or have someone else do something FOR them. It's purposefully NOT learning something so you don't have to follow through and actually do it. It's purposefully not telling someone you can do something because its easier to let them take over and do it.
This is a very common maneuver in homes where being the 'youngest', 'baby', or the 'busy studious or athletic kid' helps a young person avoid almost any chore, new skill or activity. They learn that by NOT doing - someone else will. They learn by doing it wrong once - someone will take over and do it for them. They learn that why try if 'good enough' isn't enough - so they stop initiating.
This summer ask your teen what they think they need to learn and know to become an INDEPENDENT adult. Create a checklist or use this as framework to customize for your family's situation.
Here's some suggestions that I would have on this summer's activity list:
- Learn how to manage own laundry from start to finish, including ironing and putting away where it belongs.
- Learn how to manage cash - paying bills - savings account - debt card (if allowed) - make change - know discounts and savings. It could also be set up a yard sale, start a helping business or learn about insurances and investing. (simple facts!)
- Learn how to shop in advance for larger purchases: check pricing, reviews, best deals, options to buying.
- Learn how to create a full 3-5 course meal - use cookbooks, Internet, Cable TV, YouTube for lessons and ideas, shop with a budget, prepare all items for others (family -friends or date) - and clean up!
- Take responsibility for at least one full meal a week -if not more - make selection, prepare and serve. Complete or delegate clean up.
- Take full responsibility for outdoor yard care - learn mechanical part of lawn care machinery, be able to use all needed tools, keep up with growth/weeds.
- Take full responsibility of pet care - including grooming, trips to Vet if has transportation, diet and exercise.
- Redo a bedroom to reflect latest phase of life - 'cool' - including wall prep, painting, closet/drawer rehaul, remove unwanted clothing/ items no longer useful.
- Learn basic car care - complete detailing along with mechanical basics - how to check oil, change a tire, what to do in an emergency.
- Learn basic computer and printer care - learn how to change cartridges, back up files, 'defrag' drive, clean out emails, set up wireless router. Practice set up before going off to campus.
- Learn how to plan a trip/ vacation: Use Internet to research, select and reserve a hotel room, book a flight, make necessary reservations and deposits. (Instead of doing it all - let them see what choices there are and what they cost!)
- Write daily - journal -or a story or read several books of your own choice (rather than determined by school lists) - share about them with family when done. Create a video - submit it to YouTube - the new 'art' for teens.
- Learn how to care for a young child, baby or elderly person. Instead of having a 'hands off' attitude - include them in the process! If you don't have one in your own family -reach out to those who do - who may want and need help desperately! When interviewing clients I often find that these experiences are what led them into career directions.
The more 'I can do it' you add to a person's list of accomplishments - the stronger their self-esteem.
Being able to be confident in managing 'real life' is half of the battle. Start this year's summer with building life skills - the academics and sports are important but everyone needs the basics listed above. Enjoy the process - the more everyone is participating in a family's function - the more it feels like a family.
The more everyone does something visible - the more positive feedback flows - most can't miss a good meal, a clean room, a mowed lawn or a finished 'fix' it - enjoy the satisfaction that comes with it!
Be creative in learning 'real' . . .