Without my knowledge, a young adult illegally drove away from my home late one night. Shortly after she left, she called frantically from a few streets away, asking me to pick her up and drive her home.
An officer had stopped her because her vehicle matched the description of one being driven by a criminal. They quickly realized she wasn’t the person they needed to apprehend; however, after running her plates, they discovered that her license had been suspended due to a two-years-old, unpaid speeding ticket from another state.
This story does not end well.
The officer handcuffed her, planning to make an arrest. She managed to talk her way out of further consequences by pledging to leave her car on the street and promising that a friend living nearby would drive her home. Though she avoided jail, this problem created a domino effect in her life, and she was ultimately unable to get the job she wanted at a nonprofit organization.
This young woman is a good person, but due to traumatic family circumstances beyond her control, she had to navigate her transition into adulthood mostly on her own. Her story is tragic, because as parents, it’s our job to help our children thrive as they transition through all levels of their development, from infancy to adulthood.
Though we don’t know exactly what’s ahead for our kids, we can focus on helping them become self-sufficient now by teaching them 12 foundational life skills that will help them find success as adults.
Knowing how to manage themselves helps your student become a team player at work and in life, making them a good leader, valued employee, cherished friend, and disciplined individual. Self-management can be taught by helping your student be fully present, build self awareness, have integrity, and make wise choices based on good values.
These skills make it easier to resist impulsive behavior in favor of doing what we truly believe is right, even if that “right thing” doesn’t come naturally. They require exchanging habits that don’t support your student’s values and adopting better habits that do, aligning their lifestyle now with the behavior that will help them succeed as adults.
This starts with showing up—coming to work, classes, and social meetings on time. Young adults and teens belong to the most connected yet socially isolated generation in history. As concerned parents, we need to give our students clear steps for turning virtual connections into real-life relationships.
But being physically present is only the first step. Your student also needs to be attentive, participating mentally and emotionally: making eye contact with speakers rather than tinkering with their phones; paying attention to what is being said rather than getting lost in their own thoughts; contributing helpfully to a conversation rather than changing the subject or making the conversation about themselves.
Self-aware people know what they are thinking, feeling, saying, and doing in real time. Internal monitoring is a difficult skill to learn, so periodically check in with your student about what they think or feel (without making any judgements). Simply reflect their thoughts and feelings back to them and let them determine how to proceed.
Pause the conversation with, “We are talking about ‘X.' How does that make you feel? What are your thoughts about ‘X’?” Help your student understand that feelings and thoughts are neutral. It’s the actions taken on unevaluated thoughts and feelings that cause trouble.
An old military handbook taught new recruits that integrity means knowing the wrong things to do, knowing the right things to do, and selecting the best right action even when no one is watching.
Integrity means that your student knows a range of possible behaviors and responses to their feelings—not just the “good” ones—and can decide for themselves which behavior or response best serves the situation.
Values are what we believe to be most important in work and life. Our actions leave clues about what we truly value—not just what we say we value—because we subconsciously base all of our decisions on underlying values. Taking the time to help your student discover their values can help them become a stronger decision-maker. They’ll immediately be able to determine if a choice they’re making or a behavior they’re practicing truly aligns with what they believe is most important.
Strong relationships boost our mood, help us grow, and provide support when we need it. That’s why it’s vital for young adults to know how to make friends and keep relationships healthy. As parents, we need to remember that our students must be well-rounded in their relational skills. Participating in one-on-one relationships, small groups, meetings, and public speaking all require distinct connecting skills. It’s helpful for our students to know how to engage with others in each context.
The following practices build civility and relational savvy, which are desperately needed in our volatile times.
Like self-management, relationships call for being present with others. As parents, we can ensure that our students have plenty of opportunities to interact with others face-to-face by allowing them to join shared-interest clubs, attend gatherings, and meet with peers one-on-one or in small groups. As your student becomes known in these groups, encourage them to make and keep social commitments and to look for outsiders they can invite to their groups.
Being physically present is a good start, but without proper communication teens are unlikely to develop meaningful relationships. Many of our teens and young adults conduct the bulk of their relationships virtually, a few lines of text at a time. Online mediums are great for supporting robust relationships or making introductions, but if our students do not meet often enough in real life, their relationships turn anemic.
To help students improve their face-to-face communication skills, develop a list of open-ended questions that spark conversation. Memorizing these questions can help make students comfortable starting the kind of conversations that can turn strangers into friends.
Meeting new people presents challenges beyond just knowing how to converse. As your student leaves home and the familiar social connections, they’ll interact with people who have views and opinions that differ from their own.
Search your network for people who challenge your own perspective. Invite these relationships to come closer to you and your student, especially if you’ve been holding them at arm’s length. Encourage your student to ask questions and show interest. Afterwards, talk to your student about these differing perspectives, demonstrating empathy and acceptance for people who may not share your point of view.
Your student needs to know how to handle disagreements without falling apart or burning bridges.
Clashes like this are most likely to occur when agendas collide or as a result of wrongdoing. One of my mentors trained his teams in conflict resolution by sharing various true conflict scenarios from his own experience. When telling his stories, he omitted how he resolved the crisis, then asked us to explain how we would handle the situation.
In the presence of competing agendas, it is best to seek an outcome in which everyone is heard, problems are solved, and everyone wins. When someone is wronged, it’s best to pursue forgiveness, and if the wrong-doing was very serious or harmful, restorative justice.
Your student will inevitably deal with failure and adversity in life. The question is: will they be defeated or will they allow those hardships to foster growth?
Recent studies on resilience demonstrates that the qualities of resilience are learned, rather than innate; and they are best cultivated before hard times hit. Those qualities are hope, a sense of purpose, self-care, and a solutions orientation.
Hope recognizes that things can (and will) get better. A hopeful person keeps problems in perspective without minimizing them. Stimulate hope in your student by encouraging them to practice gratitude. Remaining conscious of and thankful for everyday blessings helps them consistently focus on silver linings in the storms of life.
Similarly, reviewing their personal history of ups-and-downs leads to an outlook that believes adversity is temporary. Even in ongoing hardship, like a chronic health problem, you bounce back by finding your “new normal,” moving out of crisis mode into stasis. Ultimately, hope addresses your will and says, “Don’t give up.”
Purpose drives us toward a better future. In good and bad times, your student will find it easier to get out of bed in the morning when they focus their mental and physical energy toward something greater than themselves.
A psychologist from the University of Michigan, Dr. Kent Berridge, located the brain’s center for motivation. This region connects feelings of delight, desire, and dread. Exploring these three emotional responses can be a powerful tool for helping your student discover a sense of purpose.
Delight. With your student, pinpoint productive activities that bring enjoyment. (Things that improve their skills, make them feel challenged, and cause them to lose a sense of time.)
Desire. Ask your student what activities they want to do so much that they’d give up other pleasurable activities to do it.
Dread. Ask your student about activities they try to avoid. (Public speaking, being outside, caring for animals, math…)
Desire and delight focus in on what their purpose is, and dread distinguishes what their purpose isn’t.
Good self-care means your student builds routines that meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs: exercise, nutrition and hygiene, religious practices, sunshine and fresh air, nurturing supportive relationships, and adequate sleep. Cultivating these practices in stable times makes it more likely that your student will keep up the good habits under stress, when strong health is most needed.
Even though life features peaks and valleys, plummeting fortunes take us by surprise, and we find ourselves floundering. Being inclined to look for solutions, however, helps us recover our footing more quickly because it points us to our next steps. This mindset means your student views problems as challenges to which a solution can be found. And this feeds hope.
Foster an environment in which problem-solving is championed. A solutions-oriented mindset requires creativity, a willingness to experiment, perseverance, and being unafraid to fail. (Which means we as parents shouldn’t hurry to rescue our students or solve problems for them. Instead, give them the space to work out their own solutions as you cheer them on.)
One final note: regardless of how prepared your student is, they need the confidence to know they can manage adulthood.
Despite how competent this generation’s young adults are, they can paradoxically feel unprepared for adulthood. They’re anxious, and many have an inflated sense of the impact missteps might have on their future. They worry about failing themselves and disappointing their loved ones.
Give your student opportunities to fail now, when the stakes are low. If they make a mistake, gracefully help them understand that the world didn’t end. Things will get better. Reassure them that your love for them does not hinge living an error-free life.
In the end, you’re not looking for perfection. You’re just trying to help your student make the transition from dependence to independence as gracefully as possible.
When her only daughter started college, Elah did something unusual: decided that she would too. “My motto is everything can be improved.” A free spirit and trailblazer, Elah takes those words to heart, bringing growth to everything in her life—be it her family, her community, or herself. She graduated through Accelerated Pathways in 2019, and is looking forward to the next adventure.