Life Skills for Teens

Picture the world at large as a vast ocean, awesome in its beauty and frightening in its power. You are the captain (or co-captain) of a family-owned ship that is traversing the waters. The crew has been with you for over a decade. Within a short time, several members of the crew will leave the ship to pilot boats of their own.

The ship in this metaphor is your home, the crew your family. The co-captains are the parents in charge of preparing their teenagers for independence. What abilities will these adolescents need in order to sail the waters of the world safely?

They will need the skills that are encapsulated by the acronym, “STORMS.”


Time management
Organization and cleanliness
Money and finance
Stress management

Following is a brief description of each of these skills:


By the end of adolescence your children need to be capable of taking full responsibility for themselves. The most effective way to prepare them for this level of independent functioning is to gradually lessen your involvement in their daily lives and allow them to take the helm.

It is indeed difficult to let go. Yet, if you try to maintain control by deciding everything for them, you stifle their growth, endanger their self-esteem and run the risk of alienating them. Your role at this stage is to supervise your teenagers to make sure that they “stay the course,” i.e., remain within healthy guidelines.

Time Management

This skill overlaps with the previous one because utilizing time to meet one’s needs is essential to self-care. Managing time well is evident, for example, when your teenager is able to awaken on time to meet the school bus, arrive promptly for appointments, and finish school projects before their deadlines.

A deficiency in time management may be caused by any number of factors beyond simple “laziness.” The cause may be physical, emotional or neurological. Therefore, if you see that your teenager is consistently late or seems unmotivated to get things done on time, it may be a sign that your child needs help. Consider all possibilities and seek guidance.

Organization and Cleanliness

You’ve already laid the groundwork for organizational ability by means of consistent and reliable parenting. In addition, you’ve probably spent many hours teaching your children to pick up their clothes and put their toys away.

Now it’s time to close the door to their rooms if your adolescents are too messy by your standards. In that way, you can keep the rest of the house organized and your relationship with your adolescent intact.


Teenagers, while involved in peer relationships, still look to their parents for guidance. Parents and other important adults serve as role models for them. Take the opportunity whenever possible to validate your teenagers’ feelings by communicating with them in a mature, respectful manner.

Your ability to listen to an adolescent’s opinions, even when the latter are contrary to your own or seem to make no sense, will strengthen your relationship with each other.

Furthermore, adolescents are skilled observers of what goes on in the house. Therefore, the way that you handle conflicts and disagreements with other members of the family demonstrates to your children what they might expect when they try to speak up. When you control your own emotions, you create a safe environment in which adolescents can express themselves.

Money and Finance

Teaching one’s teenagers how to handle money means that they need money of their own to spend. They can acquire money through birthday and holiday gifts, weekly allowances or payment for completing chores. The goal is for them to realize that they are using their own limited funds rather than spending money from an unlimited source.

Another way of preparing your teens for future budgeting is through storytelling. When you relate your own financial struggles as a young adult you convey a true, first-person account of what it’s like to live through lean times. Be careful, however, not to lecture your adolescents. They will learn best by hearing your stories and then drawing their own conclusions.

Stress Management

Stress management is an all-purpose skill that is useful in every area of life.

One might think that teenagers lead a stress-free life. But adolescence is a time of tremendous changes, both internal and external. As a result of these changes, our adolescents expect more of themselves and we expect more of them as well. Higher expectations, in turn, lead to higher levels of stress.

Stress management involves two crucial steps:

1) Awareness of signs of stress overload; e.g., changes in sleeping or eating patterns, avoidance and withdrawal from friends and family, or unexplained sadness or depression.

2) An ability to lower the stress level by means of healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercise, relaxation techniques and supportive relationships.

Many adolescents cope well with the stress in their lives, especially if they have close friends who can serve as confidants. However, even friends may not suffice if the pressure rises above a threshold that they can handle.

A Nautical Summary

Your adolescent is now ready to practice some crucial life skills. Stand back and watch them as they try to guide the ship through variable waters. When there is a squall ahead, do the best that you can, standing at your child’s elbow, reinforcing lessons already learned. Continue to manage the rest of the crew and model the behaviors that you want to see. It takes time to get through basic training. When they’re done, they will have the aptitude to steer through STORMS.

Books of Interest

Family for Life, by Kathy Peel (NY: McGraw-Hill, 2003)

Fighting Invisible Tigers: A Stress Management Guide for Teens, by Earl Hipp (Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, 1995)

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