Your teens spend their days at school learning how to do complicated math problems and how to critically read, but there are some things that are critical to life that can’t be taught in school. According to US News , only 13 states require kids to learn personal finances, and there is currently no program in schools to teach your kids how to manage their personal health care or how to file their taxes.
A recent poll by Sallie Mae found that 84 percent of high school students would prefer to learn how to take care of themselves before they graduate high school. Making sure that your teen is ready for independence and adulthood is incredibly important and goes beyond just helping them learn to drive and choosing the right college. But teaching life skills doesn’t have to be difficult. There are a few things you can do to help get them ready for the real world.
Teach Financial Independence and Start Early!
One of the most important lessons that you child needs to learn is how to manage their own finances. This doesn’t have to wait until they are about to leave the nest, though. According to financial educator Ken Damato , the summer is one of the best times to teach your child how to manage finances—and the younger you start, the better. One thing you can do to start teaching your kids how to manage their money is to create a family match plan for savings—meaning that if your child saves a certain amount in a year you will promise to match it. This will encourage them to think about investing and how it may be unwise to spend their money on things that won’t be around in a year.
Credit cards will lurk around every corner once your child is 18. This can be a huge help in paying for college, but it can also quickly become a problem, landing your child thousands of dollars in debt in many cases. One of the best ways to teach your child about credit is to get them a prepaid card. Unlike a credit card, there is no interest charged and your teen can’t spend more than what is on the card.
If they want to spend more, help them find a summer job. Babysitting and mowing lawns can teach them the value of a dollar, but it is important that you help them learn how to save and how to avoid frivolous spending and relying on credit. Discuss all of the benefits of saving and investing and create an open dialogue if they want to talk about a big purchase they may want to make. Discuss why it is important to pay bills first and then budget the rest.
Teach How to Handle Health.
Whether it is health insurance or car insurance, chances are your teen doesn’t understand why health and insurance is important. After all, these have just been something they have always had in most cases. With all of the changes due to the Affordable Care Act and all of the tax paperwork that insurance requires, making sure your teen fully understands how to sign up is important—they are only allowed on a parent’s policy until they are 26. If they are an older teen, walk them through how to read a health insurance policy, or how to find answers to questions they may have. Let them call and speak with their car insurance representative so that they understand how it works.
Another way that you can help your child become independent when they are younger is by letting them make their own doctors’ appointments and other small health care steps. According to KidsHealth.org , a great way to let them start taking responsibility is to start by talking about medical topics and having them call the pharmacy to refill their own prescriptions. It is also important to give them time alone with their doctors—especially during puberty since they might have embarrassing questions. While you are at the doctor, explain what medical records are and as your teen grows up, explain how they can get their records and how to keep track of their records. This can save them a lot of hassle when they are older.
Let Your Teens Make the Calls.
It may seem a little obvious, but sometimes having your teen make the phone calls for themselves when they need something—whether it be a question about their savings account or making an appointment for a haircut—can prepare them for adulthood. In today’s digital age, young people tend to want to do everything over the internet, however there is a value to speaking with someone face to face or over the phone when there is a problem. Having your child understand this, and encouraging them to make the calls themselves, will teach them to think for themselves and will teach them how to solve problems without panicking or calling you in tears every time they don’t understand a charge on their bank account.
Another way that letting your teen make the phone calls can help is that it teaches them to be accountable for their actions. According to Psychology Today , if a teen has to solve problems themselves it will help them stay away from those mistakes in the future—be it an overdraft fee or forgetting to pay a phone bill. The more responsible they are for both paying their own bills and solving their own problems before they leave the house, the easier it will be for them once they are out on their own.
As always, the key to teaching you teen how to take care of themselves is communication. If they understand why this is so important to learn now, and if they feel that you are open to hearing what they have to say, they are less likely to become frustrated or to stop listening. Build their trust and they will surprise you.
For more information and tips on preparing your kids for independence, visit TBParenting.com