Skip to main content

7 skills to teach teens before they head off to college

Once high school graduation caps get tossed into the air and the parties are finished, it’s time to get teens ready for college. For most teens, freshmen year is their first extended time away from home. Regardless of how far your teen’s college or university is, it’s important to impart basic life skills before pulling away from the dormitory for the trip home. While you think your teen is prepared for life on their own, inevitably, there will be calls about laundry disasters, overdrawn checking accounts, and the dreaded maxed-out credit cards. While money management and life skills would be an essential required course in high school, classes like that typically aren’t offered. Spend time this summer making sure your teen is really ready for life away from home by packing these life skills, too.

teen girl learning how to make a bed
Everyonephoto Studio/Shutterstock

Household skills

The dorm room doesn’t come with a cleaner, and you don’t want your teen living in filth especially if he or she shares a suite and a common area. Make sure your teen knows the housekeeping basics by teaching the how-tos of:

  • Making the bed and changing the sheets
  • Cleaning the toilet and bathroom
  • Washing dishes
  • Vacuuming
  • Dusting

Adding cleaning supplies to the haul headed to college is a plus.

Cooking basics

The freshman 15 is a thing, and many college kids eat out a lot because the cafeteria food is awful. Eating out on a regular basis is expensive and not the healthiest lifestyle. While your teen doesn’t need to be Martha Stewart, knowing how to make scrambled eggs, pasta, grilled chicken, hot dogs, grilled cheese and other simple recipes is a huge benefit. You and your teen can spend quality time before the semester starts learning how to cook and use everyday kitchen appliances.

Refrigerator 101

College kids eat out a lot and leftovers hit the refrigerator and take up permanent residence before becoming a science experiment. To avoid unwanted bacteria, stomach upset and food poisoning, teach teens how to manage the refrigerator.

  • Use leftovers within four days
  • Freeze leftovers if they’re not going to be eaten
  • Use opened perishable foods within seven days or discard
  • Read expiration dates
  • Take a few minutes to clean out spoiled food every couple of weeks
teaching teen how to do laundry
Elnur / Shutterstock

Laundry 101

If your teen doesn’t know his or her way around a washing machine and dryer, take time over the summer to teach laundry basics. Teens should know how to wash clothing, sheets and towels, and they should know what water temperature to use, as well as what can and can’t go in the dryer. Pods are great because then they can’t overdo the laundry detergent. Let teens practice doing loads in the weeks leading up to school.

Grocery shopping

Teens have been food shopping with you many times, but they aren’t necessarily focused on the process. Once the stash you sent is gone, your teen will need to head to the food store. Teach teens how to pick out good produce and meat. Make sure they understand the importance of checking expiration dates before purchasing, as well as checking the packaging is intact. Introduce teens to the saving power of sales and coupons.

Car essentials

Even if your teen won’t have a car on campus, it’s important to know how to put air in a tire, change a tire in an emergency, jump start the engine and pump gas, especially if your college freshman is from New Jersey, where no self-pumping is allowed. A AAA card is also a must.

Money management

Before teens leave for college, it’s important to discuss fiscal responsibility. Teach teens how to manage money before you get the frantic call home about credit card and checking account issues. Help teens set up a budget. College freshmen should know how to budget the money they earn in order to pay their necessary bills while still having money for essentials like food annd fun. Teach them how to manage their debit card, Venmo, PayPal or checking account while staying within budget.

Many parents give their teen a credit card for emergencies or help them apply for one to take to college. Make sure your teen understands an emergency isn’t buying the lacrosse team pizza. Teach teens to check credit card statements each month, pay the total off in its entirety and to pay the bill on time. Teens should understand paying the minimum on credit cards and late fees costs more money in the long run while damaging credit rating. To avoid a disaster, teens should have one credit card.

If you take the time to show your teen how to manage his or her money, you’ll avoid needing to make emergency deposits to their Venmo. You also don’t want to see your teen rack up huge amounts on their credit card on top of those loan payments they’re going to have after graduation.

As a parent or caregiver, your head is probably spinning. Taking the time to make sure your teen has packed the necessary skills he or she needs helps make for a better adjustment to college and life away from home. It gives you peace of mind, especially if your teen’s college is a considerable distance away. When teens have basic life skills, they’re more apt to be independent, which is the goal of every parent. Helping teens get a handle on how to manage life away from home the summer before college is also a way to savor quality time before they leave the nest.

Editors' Recommendations

Dawn Miller
Dawn Miller began her professional life as an elementary school teacher before returning to her first love, writing. In…
7 great kids’ books featuring LGBTQ+ characters to add to your child’s bookshelf
Three kids sitting and reading books

Children learn about the world through many avenues, but one in their life every day is the books they read at home. The more diverse the representation in these books, the more their minds will be ready to accept anyone they meet. Millions of children have LGBTQ+ family members or are LGBTQ+ themselves, so kids of any identity should see these kids reflected in their books.

You may need to go out of your way to make sure your bookshelf is appropriately diverse, but this list makes finding those titles easy. Each one of these picture books for babies through elementary school students has one or more LGBTQ+ characters woven into a story that makes a great book on its own. They don't take an educational tone, but rather share engaging and colorful tales that any child will love -- while also happening to incorporate LGBTQ+ people.
A Plan for Pops

Read more
4 best Juneteenth picture books to teach kids about the holiday
Five kids reading on a bench outside.

Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated on June 19, marking the end of slavery. Why this day? June 19, 1865, is when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the announcement that slavery had been abolished.

The announcement by troops under the direction of Major General Gordon Granger came more than two years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and was followed by the passing of the 13th amendment to the Constitution by Congress that abolished slavery. (The 13th amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865.)

Read more
4 best ways to show your LGBTQ teen you support them, according to the experts
Parents talking to teenager

So your teenager has come out to you. Hopefully, you've been having open discussions about this topic for years and your child knows they can come to you about anything. Regardless of your past talks, it's crucial to show your child all of the love and care they need and deserve. It is time to buck up and be the supportive parent you know you can be -- and the ultimate advocate.

Of course, this may be uncharted territory for you, and you might not be sure how to react, how to help, what to say, and what to completely avoid. In this vein, many parents find themselves treading lightly or biting their tongues. But your vulnerable teen needs you more than ever -- so here is what you need to keep in mind at this critical juncture of time.

Read more