Adulting 101: 13+ Life Skills to Prepare for Adulthood in 2023

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Last Updated on June 4, 2023 by Sarah McCubbin

If you are raising children or teens who will someday become adults, there is a natural anxiety that comes thinking about teaching them “How to Adult.” I mean, the news is full of stories of teens and young adults crashing and burning (both literally and figuratively) in the quest to become independent. Add to that any personal knowledge of your own craziness during the teen years and you might “know” that the genetic pool for your children is predisposed to some wild times.

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As parents of 9 children, we started talking to our kids about becoming adults from the time they were in elementary school. At first we just wanted them to be confident and understand the basics of taking care of themselves. For example: How many hours do you need to work to buy a pair of tennis shoes.

We didn’t have a great plan for how we hoped they would land in adulthood. We just hoped we wouldn’t mess things up.

My husband and I got married young while we were finishing up college. I was 20 and he was 23. I found that transition to independence surprisingly difficult as I really had no idea how to budget, how much things cost…or really how to adult at all.

As it turns out, getting A’s in school looks very different than being successful in your own life. I made a whopping $7 an hour as a school photographer and he made about the same working at McDonalds while he finished school. We suddenly had to figure out how to pay for rent, car stuff, food, and utilities on a very small income.

So as we started having children, I really began to analyze…why was this transition so hard for me…and how could we adjust things for our kids? I realized that if we reverse-engineered adulthood, there were many lessons we could teach our kids long before they turned 18. Currently, we have 4 teenagers…soon to be 5 and two of them are now adults! Yikes…it happened so fast!

how to adult

Now, we are by no means experts, but our teens are respectful, hardworking, and progressing on their goals, so I thought I’d share with you the steps we have taken so far as we teach our kids how to adult.

All of these experiences are progressive and can be started at any time in the process. If your kids are older teens…or even young adults living at home, most of these experiences still have value as a place to start off. I do plan to update these as we add more experiences, but for now, let’s begin….

Childhood

1. Chores

There are plenty of obvious lessons that prepare us for adulthood during this time. We have all our kids help with basic chores around the house and they are not paid for them. They help with

  • cleaning
  • cooking
  • washing dishes
  • caring for animals
  • folding laundry
  • helping with younger siblings.

All of these unpaid chores teach them that there are many things we do to help each other as part of a family. By working together, we can get more done faster. The local Amish communities often say, “Many hands make light work.” I like that. By working together for a short period of time, we can do more than we could do alone. During this time period, I see my role as a model and coach…I’m teaching them how to do these jobs and I’m working with them.

2. Financial Awareness – Open a Bank Account

The other step we take during childhood is to set up savings accounts for each of them. This way they can begin to see their earnings as well as any monetary gifts begin to accumulate.

3. Self Care

Learning to take care of yourself and your physical body is essential. We rarely notice when someone has good self-care habits. But we ALWAYS notice when someone doesn’t. Maybe their hair is greasy, they smell bad or wear dirty clothes and have bad breath. We might think that our kids will automatically pick up good habits in this area, but sometimes they don’t. If that is the case, be intentional about teaching them.

Here are practical self-care areas to work on that can begin in childhood:

  • Bathing
  • Brushing Teeth
  • Changing their Clothes
  • Brushing hair

Preteens

In addition to helping with household chores, our preteens are now interested in the opportunity to earn some regular income. To facilitate this, we encourage them to do paid jobs for us and for family and friends. These jobs include babysitting, cleaning, mowing, weeding or any jobs outside regular chores that we agree to pay for.

Age 13

4. Personal Responsibility

In our family, age 13 brings a unique opportunity that our kids really look forward to. This is the first year they are allowed to attend Worldview Camp. I could easily write a whole post on this and probably will at some point, but this camp is amazing. It is offered all over the country at Christian universities and exists as a place to teach students how to ask good questions as they navigate life. They teach students that everyone has a worldview and we each do as well. We need to know what we believe in order to interact with the culture.

I love this camp because the focus is more on how to think rather than what exactly they should believe. This camp is offered in a 3 year rotation so the content is different for each of those 3 years. Students discuss current events and are really challenged to think and express their understanding of what the Bible says on different topics.

Each of my children that has attended have become more confident people. They are easily able to dialogue on many different topics and my personal favorite…they are great at interacting with people who believe different things. I love that especially because this world is a pretty diverse place and we need to be able to respectfully talk to people without becoming offended when we don’t agree.

4. Education

As our students navigate their schoolwork in junior high, we really try to foster independence. As a student, I tended to fall apart if I “failed” anything and I wanted our kids to be ok if they did fail. So, part of junior high years has really been about the process of how to learn. I try to give them lots of chances to keep track of their work, do their papers and complete projects without my help…unless they ask for it. As they try to do it their way…and often flounder, they tend to become more receptive to advice.

This has been challenging at times because I don’t want to see them fail either, but I know there is a process of owning their own education that has to happen…and sometime it requires them learning the wrong ways to do it before they learn the right ways.

Age 14-15

5. Work

Typically at age 14 or 15 our kids get their first job or start a side business. There are several chains that will allow teens to work at this age but with restricted hours. All of our teens have worked at McDonalds and had other work they did on the side.

There are tons of benefits of teens having jobs. But I personally love the confidence they develop as they begin to work in a fast paced environment. I like that they develop people skills working with the public (who is not always happy) and working with their co-workers. I’ve seen my more demanding children become more respectful. I’ve seen the quiet ones come out of their shell. It just has too many benefits.

Once our kids have a job, we stop paying for their clothing. That is typically when we will consider letting them get a cell phone that they need to buy and pay for the service. This has the benefit of helping them start to understand how much things cost. Because they have to earn the money before they spend it, they know how many hours it takes to buy a $100 pair of tennis shoes or a $900 phone. Therefore they tend to be careful about how they spend their money as they also know that we do not plan to pay for college.

On top of that, jobs at this age give them an income which becomes essential to the next step of the process of how to adult.

6. Government

In our home, another unique opportunity we have discovered and loved for learning about government is Teen Pact. Students attend 4 or 5 days at their state capital and learn about government, how to craft bills, and how to present them. They function as a mini governing body and often get to meet members of the state legislature.

On their website they state: “Through dynamic experiences, TeenPact seeks to inspire youth in their relationship with Christ and train them to understand the political process, value their liberty, defend the Christian faith, and engage the culture around them. “Changing lives to change the world” is more than a vision statement to us. It’s what we do every day.

Learning about government has been so helpful in them feeling confident that they can actually be part of decision-making at all levels. It also helps them appreciate the way laws are created and the level of collaboration that is required.

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Age 16

7. Driver’s License & Insurance

At 16, the big milestones relating to independence have been all about cars…how to drive them, maintain them and insure them.

We require our teens to pay for their own drivers education classes (typically around $300 in our area). At $10 an hour, that course took 30 hours to pay for. This financial commitment has resulted in them paying much better attention in class. I remember my oldest son grumbling about other students in his class who were inattentive in class. He knew he paid…so he had better get something out of it.

Similarly, once they actually have their license, they need to go ahead and pay for the insurance. Currently we have them pay for it once a year as that is how we pay for our insurance as well. They can expect to pay $1000 or more for the privilege of driving. Our daughter panicked at that idea after she got her license and said she didn’t want to drive. But as it turns out…you can’t do that…at least in Ohio. You sign a paper when you get your license saying you have insurance…so you must have insurance…or surrender your license.

I get it though…saving hard for money only to hand it over for boring insurance seems unnecessary. But as adults we know it is absolutely necessary…which is why I love this step of responsibility here at age 16. My dad paid for my car insurance all the way through our first year of marriage. I literally had no idea how much it cost. I didn’t even think about the fact that he was paying it (clueless). So for us, this process is helping our kids know what all the moving parts are so that they learn how to adult.

8. Finances – Taxes

Typically this is the age our kids start filing tax returns. Their incomes prior to 16 are very small but they generally they earn enough to file the year they are 16. They start to become familiar with the documents needed and the idea of getting a tax return (which they love of course).

Age 17

9. Future Planning on How to Adult

At age 17, adulthood is right around the corner. This year has been filled with opportunities to plan for the future. Typically our kids at this age:

  • Work 15-30 hours a week to save toward college or a car
  • Learn about the costs of independent living (rent, utilities, tuition)
  • Take ACT/SAT tests
  • Fill out college applications
  • open a checking account that allows direct deposit from employers

10. Legal Conversations

Throughout the teen years, we have many conversations about what it means to follow and break the law. This is paired with other activities that develop an understanding of how the law works. Our most memorable experiences include going to watch drug court with my teens and my sons helping the local bailiff evict tenants from a rental. But there have many others and all of it has been to provide context for adult behavior.

In addition, we also have a lot of conversations about how the law views them on their 18th birthday. Essentially we want them to know that even if their life doesn’t change on their 18th birthday…the law sees them differently as an independent adult. Reckless behavior before this age often has very different consequences compared to after they are adults and we want them to be aware of it. Thankfully none of our kids have been reckless, but it is important for the responsible teens to know this too.

Age 18 – You are Now Legally An Adult!

Just because our kids are legally adults, it does not mean we hand over the reins and do nothing. Far from it…I’m 43 years old and I still ask my parents for advice so I certainly hope my kids don’t expect to navigate life solo from here on out. In some ways, 18 is just its own new beginning that builds on a foundation you have worked for years to establish.

11. Live At Home or Move Out

We have established for years that if our kids wanted to live at home after 18, they needed to be either in college or in another career program. I did not want or need adults lying around the house. We had 11 people in our 2200 square foot house and it makes me batty when people are not productive. So…if they wanted to stay, they needed to have a plan.

Since we had reviewed the cost of independent living at at 17, this gave them some context for that decision. Both of our 18 year olds could have afforded to move out but both wanted to go to college locally so they opted to stay home so they could save money.

So far in 2023, one of our children has chosen to move out and live with a grandparent while working full time. Our other adult child has chosen to live at home, go to school full time and work 30 hours a week.

12. Start Investing

At 18…or before in some cases, we encourage them to open an investment account. This is about setting up habits now that will serve them for life. They have disposable income now…so this is a good time to start.

13. Open a Credit Card account

When my husband and I bought our first house, we almost needed a co-signer because we had NO CREDIT. We had simply paid cash for everything. The lender finally found a student loan in my husband’s name that we hadn’t even started repaying yet…and it was enough of a score to get us a mortgage.

So we encourage our kids to get secured credit cards so they can start to build a credit score and learn to manage the use of a card while paying it off monthly. They primarily use it to pay for gas or recurring phone bills. ( If a young person has not mastered the previous lessons in financial responsibility, I would not jump to this one until they do learn how to earn money, budget responsibly, and pay for their own bills.)

No Perfect Plan

While neither my husband nor I really knew what we were doing when we got married 22 years ago, we had 1 thing going for sure. We had an amazing support system. We had parents that stuck with us through good decisions (and bad) as we tried to figure out how to adult. And more than any of the steps, I think that is probably the most important. There is no perfect plan on how to adult.

There is no complete checklist that covers every detail. However, involved parents who stay present and offer advice and suggestions long past 18 years old are a gift that blesses current and future generations. I suspect that if you are reading this…you are one. You are the biggest support factor in your kids learning how to adult.

If you have teen or adult children, I would love to know what steps you took that contributed to your (and their) successes (or failures 😉 as an adult! What steps do you think are most important in teaching young people how to adult?

Life Skills Are Not Optional

If you are raising a teen or young adult, you know that having plenty of life skills is not optional. They need the tools to navigate the many situations they will face in life. But as parents we don’t always know what tools they need…or how to teach them.