7 Life Skills Every Teen Should Know Before Graduating High School

Teens know “everything,” amiright? They can drive, serve as your personal IT consultant, make TikTok recipes, find a meme about anything, and thrift for amazing finds. But as your teen heads off to their post-high school life—whether it’s higher education, a gap year, work, travel, or volunteering—there are some life skills they should have. You won’t always be right there to handle everything for them. Even if they aced their AP exams, it doesn’t mean they have all the skills they need to live independently. Adulting is something they will aspire to, and in order to navigate life after graduation, they should have an understanding of these skills.

1. Finances

Whether they’re living in a dorm paid for by you, or in their own apartment they are paying for themselves, they should know how to handle their finances. Armed with this knowledge, they will be less likely to get into financial trouble later.

  • Manage their Checking and Savings accounts. Most financial institutions have an app now, which teens will be more likely to use than logging onto their computer. They should understand things like minimum balances, fines/fees that may be incurred, transferring between accounts, using a debit card, and getting cash (via an ATM or a debit card).
  • Write a check. It seems like a bygone thing, but some places still require a voided check.
  • Deposit a check, including endorsing it on the back with their signature. Most bank apps have a deposit feature, but still need photos of the endorsed check.
  • Credit cards. Whether it’s a card under your account or their own, they should understand how it works—how to keep it secure, what balances, accruing interest, and late payment fees are, and how it can affect their credit report. It is very important for them to understand that they shouldn’t charge more than what they can pay off.
  • Budget. Groceries, eating out, using the dorm’s washer/dryer, new clothes, gas, utilities, etc.—they should understand how to manage the money coming in and going out. Prioritization and accountability are great lessons, as well as saving money.
  • How to fill out a W-2 for an employer.
  • If they will be earning income, they should know how to file taxes, including what paperwork they need to file away in order to do so. Even if you’re doing their taxes for them, have them work on the forms with you.
  • If they have student loans or a car loan, they should understand the ins and outs of them.
  • How to tip at restaurants and for services.

2. Household Skills

Once your teen moves to a more independent living situation, they will need to know how to handle basic household tasks. It is both amazing and amusing to witness!

  • How to do laundry, including separating whites from colors, what temperature to use, how to wash delicates and sweaters, and what washer/dryer settings to use.
  • How often to launder sheets and towels. You may be surprised to know that many college kids go a month or many more without doing so!
  • Grocery shopping basics. This will help save them money and ensure they eat (mostly) nutritious meals. Teach them how to make a shopping list, compare prices when they are in the store, and look at the ingredients labels.
  • Cooking basics, like boiling an egg, making pasta or rice, how to fry something, using the stove and oven, and what things need refrigeration or freezing. What does not go in a microwave! This all depends on what they plan to eat; give them basic lessons on these to get them started. You don’t want them to subsist on Cup Noodles and frozen burritos forever (although my brother did in college and he’s fine now). They should also know the shelf life of food.
  • Basic household cleaning skills, especially the kitchen and bathroom

3. Health

Dr. Mom or Dr. Dad won’t always be just down the hall. Give them the basic skills on how to manage their health needs.

  • How to assess if they should make a doctor’s appointment, or go to Urgent Care, or go to the Emergency Room, or call 911. Of course, they will likely call you first, but if they can’t reach you and need to make a decision, this knowledge will come in handy.
  • They should know how to get a prescription filled, whether online or at their nearby pharmacy.
  • How and when to take basic OTC medications such as painkiller, allergy medications, and cold/flu/digestion medications.
  • Teach them how to find a healthcare provider that is in-network with your insurance, how to use their insurance and prescription card, and how to use their patient portals.
  • Encourage them to familiarize themselves with nearby healthcare centers and clinics, whether they live on a school campus or not.
  • This time of their lives is huge—big transitions and changes on many levels. Stress, anxiety, worries, or uncertainties may present themselves. Make sure they understand the importance of their mental health as well, and to ask for help when needed. Keep this an open, continuing dialogue; it’s not a bad idea to check in on these issues once in awhile.

4. Old-Timey Basics

A few things they will still need to do, at least for now!

  • Memorize their Social Security Number, and then put the paper card away somewhere safe. Of course, they should also know never to give it to anyone inquiring over the phone or via email.
  • Along with their SS card, they should know how and where to safely store other important documents (e.g., passport).
  • How to address an envelope (both return and recipient), seal it, stamp it (maybe also how/where to buy stamps), and mail it.
  • How to read a map (paper or digital) and figure out directions without using a GPS.
  • They will be signing all sorts of legal papers from here on out. They should know how to sign in cursive, and understand that their signature needs to be pretty consistent—their “John Hancock,” so to speak.

5. Communication

Teens are very skilled at all the modern quirks of interpersonal communication and behavior—they know about ghosting, breadcrumbing, catfishing, and just being so freakin’ extra (can you tell I have teens of my own?). But when it comes to the more old-fashioned methods, they may need some guidance.

  • How to answer a phone properly. Most teens seem to loathe speaking on a phone; they use it for texting and a million other things, but TALK on it OMGGG. The person on the other end might be a prospective employer, a college counselor, a roommate’s parent, etc. 
  • How to call someone on the phone. Sometimes you have no other choice but to actually make that phone call. It could be the airline, a restaurant, an employer, or customer service.
  • How to meet and greet. Shake hands, look them in the eye, and say a pleasantry.
  • How to write and send a Thank You note. It might be fine to send grandma a text to thank her for a gift, but in the professional world, a handwritten message of appreciation will always make one stand out. As they become adults themselves, writing these notes is a great way for them to practice gratitude.
  • The importance of networking and people skills. Building personal communications with a purpose is vital knowledge that will help them navigate school and work as they become adults.
  • They should know how to write academic and professional-level communications. No text-speak, acronyms, or emojis.

6. Time Management and Organization

Your teen’s reliance on mom or dad to remind them about a due date or an appointment will slowly come to an end once they’re on their own. 

  • Encourage them to use a planner or a calendar to keep track of due dates, appointments, social activities, work shifts, travel, and any other important dates. If they prefer a digital one, there are a ton of apps out there just for this. If your kiddo needs a more present, basic visual reminder, a wall calendar or student planner notebook works very well, too.
  • Help them understand how to allot enough time for travel to and from an appointment, whether it’s by driving, walking, or taking public transportation.

7. Traveling

  • If they have a car, they should know about basic vehicle safety and maintenance, what to do when an accident occurs, car insurance, and if applicable, car financing.
  • They should know how to research flights and accommodations, as well as how to book, check their baggage, check in, etc.
  • If you’ve always packed their suitcase for them, it’s time to teach them how to pack properly, whether it’s for a weekend away or a semester abroad.
  • Teach them how to use ride shares safely

Bonus points for their civic duty:

  • How to vote and why it’s important. They should know how to find their polling place and vote. If they are out-of-state, they should be registered to vote by absentee ballot. This will require their mailing, addressing, and stamping skills.


What an exciting time for the whole family! Even though your young adult might be living more independently, make sure they know that you are still there if they need help. Time seemed to go from 0 to 60 when my eldest was a high school junior, and I couldn’t slow it down no matter how hard I tried. Enjoy the changes and be present as much as you can. In a year or two you’ll be reading my other piece, When Your College Kid Is Home for the Summer!



Get a FREE In-home or Office Consultation

Need help from our professional organizers in the Seattle and Eastside areas? Schedule your FREE consultation with one of our experts today!