8 things your teen needs to know

1. Wash their own clothes

“By the time kids are 13 or 14, there is no reason they can’t do their own laundry,” says Lynn, noting that any child who can operate a computer or video game can be taught to use a washing machine. “We’re not talking about wringer washers here.” Lynn suggests the groundwork can be laid early on — preschoolers can sort socks or fold underwear, for example. And it doesn’t hurt to add a natural consequence: Your teen may be more willing to pitch in when her favourite jeans have been lying in the hamper for two weeks.

2. Cook a meal

Do you remember hosting your first dinner party and suddenly appreciating how much preparation is involved? Most kids don’t have a clue how to put together a meal until they try it themselves. By the time Lynn’s son and daughter were in their early teens, they were each expected to cook dinner once a week. They didn’t have to shop, but they did have to think ahead and make a grocery list. Bonus: When they leave home, teens who know their way around a kitchen will be less likely to survive on fast food and other junk.

3. Earn their own money

Debra Schultz’s* 13-year-old twin boys are like night and day when it comes to money. Andrew helps with a friend’s landscaping business during the summer to earn extra money, and he’s diligently saving to buy a fish tank. His brother, Chris, is much less motivated. “Chris says he understands the benefits of saving money, and he’s tried,” says his mom. “But it doesn’t last long.” The Schultzes recently encouraged Chris to save for the new goalie pads he wanted, but eventually they paid for them. “We don’t want them to go without,” says Debra, echoing a feeling all parents can relate to.

4. Be in a healthy relationship

The patterns your teen forms in his early dating experiences will either help or haunt him as he gets older. Parents can’t control what happens in their kids’ relationships, but they can provide a model. “The first rule is: Look in the mirror,” Direnfeld says. “If you’re not in a respectful relationship, you lose your moral authority. Teenagers typically turn down the volume and look at the picture.”

5. Understand they’re not the center of the universe

The teenage mindset is summed up wonderfully in the title of a book by clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf, who has worked with teens for more than 30 years: Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? Teens need to appreciate that the world doesn’t stop because they need to be somewhere. “You may want to put this in terms of a deal,” suggests Ron Clavier, a Toronto psychologist and author of Teen Brain, Teen Mind. “I would say, ‘You’ve asked me to drive you to your hockey game, and that means I have to give up a half-hour of my life. I was going to do the laundry this afternoon, so if you want to do the laundry, that gives me back my half-hour.’” Clavier says this type of exchange helps teens understand they have a responsibility to others.

6. Mind their manners

While etiquette standards constantly change, basic politeness and courtesy are never old-fashioned. Teach your teen to take off his baseball cap in a restaurant. Get him to phone his grandparents to thank them for the birthday gift. Make sure he understands that the language he uses around his friends may not be appropriate at work. “There are so many stories about young people going into job interviews and not having a clue how to behave,” says Lynn. “We can’t blame them. Why don’t they know what’s appropriate to wear at an office? Or that it’s important to listen and be polite? We spend so much energy making sure they’re involved in all these activities, yet sometimes we’re not teaching them basic social skills.”

7. Be street-smart

Your teens are going to encounter all kinds of people — at their job, at the mall, on the street — and blanket rules like “don’t talk to strangers” no longer apply. “Most teenagers believe they’re more knowledgeable than they really are, so it’s difficult to protect them from all the dangers that may befall them in the community,” says Direnfeld. “It’s something most people pick up from experience.” This is why Lynn suggests we help kids hone their street smarts long before they’re teenagers. “It starts with teaching them how to walk to school, how to go to the local store, how to take the bus downtown. If you’re walking into a parking garage with your daughter you can say, ‘You know, it’s a good idea to take a look around and see who else might be here, and if something doesn’t feel right, trust yourself and get out, or call for help.’”

8. See the world in perspective

To a teenager, not being invited to a party isn’t just a bummer, it’s a catastrophe. “One of the ways you can help your teen deal with this on a practical level is to make sure she has more than one peer group,” Clavier says. “This might include neighbourhood kids or cousins and relatives. That way if one group is doing something and she is not invited, she has someone else to call.”

Parents can also help teens understand that flunking a quiz or missing a penalty kick will not have lifelong consequences. But remember: Putting things in perspective doesn’t mean trivializing her emotions. It doesn’t help to tell your miserable daughter she’s making a big deal out of nothing. Instead, show her you know how she feels by sharing a story about a time you recovered from a similar setback.

Hope this will help you in some ways

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