26 Important Life Skills for Teens


Teaching teens life skills doesn’t just build independence, it also builds social-emotional learning (SEL) skills that teens need. There are five core SEL competencies that experts recommend, and we’ve gathered the top life skills that help build them. Look for self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, and the tools to build relationships in the 26 life skills for teens (not in any particular order) we’ve gathered here. Life is tough enough, so let’s help our teens feel confident by teaching them the life skills they need. Tip: When teaching high school kids, don’t assume anything, and answer questions even if they seem like common sense.

Daily Living Skills

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Life skill #1: How to do the laundry

How to teach it:

Start with the basics like how to sort colors and read the labels. Discuss why some clothing items should be washed differently. Don’t forget to teach teens how to use a washing machine and dryer. What is each button for and how does the timing work? You’ll want to cover the benefits of air drying and the purposes of detergent, fabric softener, bleach, and stain remover. This is also a good time to reinforce finishing something you start: It’s better to do one load from dirty to folded and put away.

Why it matters:

Being able to do laundry is a basic skill that helps build confidence. Teens learn to care for themselves, feel good about how they look in the presence of others, and organize their time as it relates to tasks. This relatively simple life skill helps teens learn self-awareness, social awareness, and self-management.

Try it: How To Do Laundry at How To Adult

Life skill #2: How to shop for groceries

How to teach it:

The best way to show your children how to grocery-shop is to invite them to go with you. Be sure to show your teens how to develop a shopping list by looking at what you’ve already got on hand and listing what they need. Deepen the learning by discussing the concept of meal plans and nutrition considerations. Teens love to share their knowledge about food and what they’ve heard is good or bad for their bodies. Use this natural interest to further communication. Discuss how to choose the best fruits and vegetables and how the perimeter aisles of the grocery store are where you should focus your shopping because that’s typically where the fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products are.

Why it matters:

Eating well is critically important to a successful well-being and life. Choosing the food we’ll eat and how we’ll share it with others includes some major competencies like responsible decision-making, self-awareness, and relationship building.

Try it: 50 Tips for Grocery Shopping at Zen Habits

Life skill #3: How to cook

How to teach it:

Now that your teens know how to get the food into the house, it’s equally important to know what to do with it. Instead of making all the meals yourself, include your teens in meal prep, cooking, and cleanup. Share the cookbooks and online resources you use for recipes and meal ideas. Ask them to find a recipe they’d like to make, and coach them through making it.

Why it matters:

Developing a cooking repertoire increases self-awareness, decision-making, and relationship building. When teens learn life skills that allow them to contribute to the household in personalized, independent ways, everyone wins.

Try it: Cooking Tips for Kitchen Beginners at Epicurious 101

Life skill #4: How to clean the house

How to teach it:

Teach teens how to clean and take care of a house by making a list of all the cleaning and maintenance jobs you do and then explicitly teaching your expectations to your teens. Assign chores to different members of the family and rotate so everyone gets a turn. As much as we tell teens why it’s important to keep a clean house, actually doing it themselves will help them understand what’s involved. This will pay off later in life when they live with others or invite people over to their house.

Why it matters:

Beyond learning practical things like how to do dishes or vacuum, chores are also shown to help teens academically, emotionally, and professionally.

Try it: House Cleaning Checklist at Molly Maid

Life skill #5: How to manage money

How to teach it:

The more conversations your teens hear about money, the more in control of their finances they become. Learning about managing money comes from having an allowance, budgeting for things you want, understanding how credit cards work, and saving money for a school trip or for college. Managing your finances is possibly one of the most important life skills for teens to learn. After all, starting off on the right course can help avoid digging yourself out of a deep hole in the future.

Why it matters:

By teaching money-management skills early, you allow teens to practice decision-making skills and personal responsibility before those things have a major impact on their life. It’s also true that the biggest challenges in our lives stem from mismanaged money. Let’s help teens avoid that challenge by taking control of money early on.

Try it: Financial Literacy Books for Kids and Teens to Really Learn About Money and Money Skills Teens Need Before Graduation at We Are Teachers

Life skill #6: How to swim

How to teach it:

This is one of those life skills for teens that is best left to the experts, but it’s important to find the right teacher. Some teens might prefer to be private about learning and some will enjoy a group lesson. For teens who didn’t learn to swim early on, this will also be a lesson in overcoming challenges.

Why it matters:

Learning a new way to move your body is great for self-awareness. And learning about water safety is also good for responsible decision-making practice. Plus, being a lifeguard is considered one of the best summer jobs for a teen, but you have to learn how to swim first.

Try it: How To Swim at WikiHow

Life skill #7: How to look for a job

How to teach it:

Finding a job is hard for a skilled adult with lots of experience, but for a teen it can feel impossible. Take this one point by point, addressing tools for finding a job first. No matter how young a tween or teen is, they can still develop a decent resume. The important thing to remember is not to compare your teens to others you know. Instead, build upon your teens’ strengths. Once you’ve both brainstormed strengths, come up with age-appropriate internships or jobs that play to them.

Why it matters:

Teens respond far differently to jobs outside the home than they do to chores or homework. This is a great way to help your teens discover their identity and practice self-management, self-awareness, and relationship-building skills.

Try it: How To Find a Job as a Teenager at Indeed

Life skill #8: How to read a map and use public transportation

How to teach it:

Here, you’ll be teaching your teens how to navigate by map or GPS and how to use public transportation. Paper maps aren’t as common now as they were 10 years ago, but there is still a need to understand how to read one. Start by discussing the different parts of a map and the common symbols you may find. Compare a phone mapping app to a paper one. Next, take the time to look at bus and train schedules and stops. Finally, have your teens find a location to visit and discuss the best way to get there. Even if you live in the suburbs or a more rural area, see if you can find a bus or train for your teens to practice on.

Why it matters:

Knowing how to get yourself places without your own car, in any location, is a true mark of independence. Navigation promotes responsible decision-making including analyzing situations and solving problems.

Try it: How To Use Public Transportation at How To Adult

Life skill #9: How to use basic tools for minor repairs

How to teach it:

Gather a supply of everyday tools and go through them with your teens. Teach them what each tool is for and how to use it. You might even think about putting together a basic tool kit for them to call their own. The most fun way, of course, to teach kids is to do a project together. Think of a project that would be meaningful for both of you, like perhaps a little free library, and instruct as you build together.

Why it matters:

We all want our teens to grow up to be self-sufficient, and having the skills to work with basic tools is a requirement for life. Once kids are on their own, they’ll want to do things like hang pictures, tighten a loose screw, cut down a Christmas tree, etc.

Try it: Everything You Want To Know About Tools from WikiHow

Life skill #10: How to stay healthy

How to teach it:

One of parents’ most important jobs is to help their children build a solid foundation of healthy living—both physically and emotionally. Topics like nutritious eating, exercise, and mindfulness can be modeled every day. Involve them in shopping for and making meals for the family. Incorporate exercise as a daily part of your family’s routine. Set up special outings to hike, ski, bike, Rollerblade, swim, etc., with your kids on a regular basis. Let your kids try sports they are interested in. Instill the importance of quiet time and reflection and hold regular family meetings to teach them healthy ways to deal with emotions and conflicts. Emphasize the importance of sleep and help them establish bedtime routines. Finally, teach them how to partner with health-care professionals to stay on top of medical and dental issues.

Why it matters:

Patterns learned in childhood set the course for young adults to thrive. True, bad patterns can be overcome, but having a strong, healthy foundation gives kids a head start as they approach adulthood.

Try it: Healthy Lifestyle Guidelines for Youth Goal Setting at Prevention Plus Wellness

Executive-Functioning Skills

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Life skill #11: How to stay organized

How to teach it:

Teenagers need help when it comes to developing organization skills. And while parents shouldn’t take over, teens need help to build these skills. Help them manage their workload with tools like standard phone apps to keep things organized. Reminders, notes, messages, calendars, photos, weather, clocks, maps, mail, and voice memos can make a huge difference. Some teens do better when they have concrete reminders like Post-it notes or task lists on paper. The aim is to get teens understanding that staying organized is a practiced skill and can improve their lives.

Why it matters:

Every social-emotional skill improves with organization. Organization affects you (self-awareness) and those around you (social awareness).

Try it: Ultimate Study Skills Guide at We Are Teachers

Life skill #12: How to manage time

How to teach it:

When teens learn time-management skills, it’s literally life-changing. Once mastered, time management helps a teen control their destiny. Discuss what schedule works best for your teens. Think about making a plan for what to do if you run out of time. Teach explicitly. For example: “Here is how you enter a task into the calendar or reminder app.” This helps you avoid arguments later when your teens tells you they didn’t know how to do it.

Why it matters:

Good time management allows teens to accomplish more in a shorter period of time. This ultimately leads to more free time, which lets them take advantage of learning opportunities, lowers their stress, and helps them focus.

Try it: 13 Practical Time Management Skills To Teach Teens at Life Skills Advocate

Life skill #13: How to be a self-starter

How to teach it:

In order to protect our teens from pain, we often take on the responsibility of motivating them. Teaching how to be a self-starter can be one of the best skills you offer teens. Here are some of the skills that help people become self-starters: set reachable goals, embrace change, flexibly adjust self-image, and accept failure as a part of the process. Working on any of these skills will help teens become self-starters. For inspiration, share this article featuring 16 inspiring teens with your students.

Why it matters:

People who motivate themselves tend to be the most successful. The more self-aware a teen is, the better they will be at the skills needed to become a self-starter. Self-starters tend to be drawn to other self-starters, which can help improve relationships and success in life.

Try it: How To Take Initiative and Become a Self-Starter at University of Arizona

Life skill #14: How to regulate social media time

How to teach it:

Quite simply, be involved in your teen’s life. Monitor their device use at home and clearly set limits for how much time they can engage. Talk with them about the harmful effects of too much social media time. Brainstorm ideas of other things to do when they are tempted to tune out. Encourage them to spend more time engaging in person. Most importantly, set a good example.

Why it matters:

Succeeding in life takes focus, and we all know that social media can quickly go from a fun diversion to a serious black hole. The studies on the effects of too much social media are clear. Anxiety, depression, obsessive behavior, and even cyberbullying are very real problems. Teaching your teens life skills that help them to set their own limits, instead of being policed, will positively affect their mental health.

Try it: Guide to Digital Stress and Social Media Addiction at We Are Teachers

Life skill #15: How to make important decisions

How to teach it:

When it comes to making decisions about tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, kids and teens need explicit guidance. Research has clearly shown that tobacco use is not safe for growing kids. Ditto for alcohol and drug use. But oftentimes, the pressure kids, especially teens, feel from their peers around these topics is overwhelming. Whether guidance comes at school or at home (hopefully both), there are effective ways to coach kids. Try these tips for talking to kids about drugs and alcohol, and to get the conversation rolling, try these 10 Conversation Starters About Drugs and Alcohol.

Why it matters:

According to Prevention, the effect of tobacco and alcohol use is different for kids than it is for an adults because their bodies are still growing. Use of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco can negatively impact emotional and physical development, as well as lead to long-term health effects.

Try it: A Tool To Help Students Make Good Decisions at Edutopia

Life skill #16: How to choose a future career

How to teach it:

Although the question “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” is universally dreaded, it’s true that it is never too early for teens to start thinking about their future. It can be a lot of pressure, so approach the topic gently. Give kids opportunities to discover their strengths and talents and find out what types of activities make them happy.

Hopefully your teens have received some career education at school, but if not, there are plenty of online resources for career exploration that provide information and activities. Sit down and go through the resources together. Then ask questions of your own, and most importantly, be sure to listen.

Why it matters:

Exposing kids to the different pathways in life while they’re still in the safety of our care is our responsibility as parents and teachers. There’s no such thing as one right way in life, and hardly anyone gets it right the first time. But equipping our teens with the opportunities and life skills they need to head in the right direction (and the resiliency to always keep trying) will help them get off on the right foot.

Try it: 8 “Would You Rather” Questions To Get Teens Thinking About Future Careers and Surveys That Can Jump-Start Conversations About Careers at We Are Teachers

Life skill #17: How to volunteer your time and help others

How to teach it:

Hopefully by the time our kids are teenagers, they’ve been exposed to some sort of service learning, either at school or church or through a club. But if not, there are numerous online sources for volunteer opportunities for teens. The best way to teach kids to give back is to do it alongside them. Pick a cause that is important to both of you and donate a few hours helping others.

Why it matters:

The benefits of volunteering are well documented. First of all, doing good for others and for your community contributes to making the world a better place. Just as importantly, volunteering can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. In addition, it can help you gain new skills, make new friends, and give you a sense of pride and identity.

Try it: Volunteer Projects for Teens and Virtual Volunteer Opportunities at We Are Teachers

Communication Skills

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Life skill #18: How to start a conversation

How to teach it:

There are many sources out there to teach the fine art of small talk. Icebreakers are a great activity to teach kids how to talk with one another. Try some of these meaningful icebreakers for middle and high schoolers. In addition, there are all kinds of tips like introduce yourself, start with a compliment, ask a question, and more. See the link below for more ideas.

Why it matters:

Learning how to talk to people you don’t know, who are outside of your comfort zone, is a very valuable skill. By connecting with new people, you may learn something new, see things from a different perspective or be inspired to try something you’ve never done. Learning to have great conversations with anyone will open up your horizons and help you feel more comfortable in social situations.

Try it: How To Start a Conversation With Strangers at BetterUp

Life skill #19: How to talk on the phone

How to teach it:

This life skill applies to many other life skills, such as setting up an appointment, approaching a teacher, or making a friend. For adults, the concept of calling someone on the phone is second nature, but for teens it’s all about text messaging. Using the phone is best mastered through practice. For this life skill, try throwing your teens into an experience. Ask your teens to make a hair appointment or dinner reservation. Don’t fix challenges for them, instead sit next to them while they call the registrar to find out what is still needed in their application. If they seem overly concerned about testing out their phone skills, ask them to call you from another room and ask what’s for dinner. Start where they are and build from there.

Why it matters:

Talking on the phone teaches communication skills and relationship-building skills that require sharing information that cannot be readily seen. There are many times in our lives when this kind of communication is necessary.

Try it: Top 10 Cell Phone Manners at Emily Post Etiquette

Life skill #20: How to stand up for yourself

How to teach it:

Being assertive is different from being aggressive, and it’s this difference that will help your teens thrive. Teach teens to be kind. Ask them what they believe in. When we say our beliefs out loud, we know what they are when they are put to the test. Talk through scenarios and how your teens might consider reacting. If your teens aren’t open to the conversation, play the game: Which would you rather and why? You’ll each state two scenarios and the other person will have to choose one and defend it. Example: If someone you know slips and falls and everyone laughs, would you rather say nothing and wait until the scene is over or tell people to stop laughing and help the person up? Why?

Why it matters:

When we teach teens to be assertive, we give them skills they can use in almost every situation. They are better able to express their needs (self-management), it’s easier for them to make friends (relationship building), and they are less likely to fall victim to bullying. Research suggests that assertive training may also help lower anxiety, stress, and depression.

Try it: Learn How To Stand Up for Yourself at BetterUp

Life skill #21: Learning to say no

How to teach it:

The teen years and young adulthood are a time of powerful peer influence, and learning to say no is one of the most important life skills for teens to learn. As children grow and become more independent, the transfer of responsibility for keeping themselves safe becomes their own. It’s perfectly normal for all kids to experiment and test boundaries, but when it comes to things that their gut clearly tells them to avoid, kids need to know how to draw the line. Bring the topic out into the open. Discuss situations that may arise, and talk through how they would handle them. Help your kids define their boundaries by asking “what if” questions. Assure them that they have the right to say no to any activity at any time, without question.

Why it matters:

Teens are still figuring out who they are and what their boundaries are. Saying no takes courage, so learning and practicing refusal techniques is the best way to help them deal with situations that will most certainly arise.

Try it: Ways To Say “No!” at BStrong Together

Life skill #22: How to cope with failure

How to teach it:

Failure is hard for anyone, but it’s exponentially so for parents watching their kids fail. But believe it or not, failure leads to success. Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure, says, “Kids who have never had to deal with failure find themselves unable to cope as adults when a relationship goes sour or a work project doesn’t pan out.” So, what can you do? Teach healthy self-talk. Praise your teen’s effort instead of their achievement. Talk about failure and be a model for dealing with it. Share your own failures.

Why it matters:

The more opportunity teens have with coping with failure, the better they learn to pivot and stay flexible. Failing hones their decision-making skills and makes them self-aware like nothing else does. Download this free poster on positive self-talk.

Try it: 10 Healthy Ways To Cope With Failure at Verywell Mind

Safety Skills

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Life skill #23: How to drive safely

How to teach it:

The very first truly adult life skill for most teens is going through the process of driver’s education and getting their license. Besides helping them find a good driver’s education teacher, the best thing you can do is model safe driving. It doesn’t hurt to talk about your driving choices as you drive with them. Teens might be surprised to find out how many things you must think about at once when you drive.

Why it matters:

It’s important to note that becoming a first-time driver as a teen requires some hefty social-emotional learning skills. Teens must learn to manage peer pressure and make the right choices, as well as self-management. This skill cannot be overestimated in its value to help teens feel self-sufficient, safe, and empowered.

Try it: 72 Safe Driving Tips That Could Save Your Life at Teen Safe Driving Coalition

Life skill #24: How to safely use ride-share services

How to teach it:

Sit down with your teens and set up a ride-sharing app together. Read the community guidelines and rider safety tips together and talk about what they mean. Then, check out these 6 Helpful Tips To Keep Your Teen Safe When Using Ride-Sharing Services. Tips include confirming the car you are getting into is the right one, not sharing too much personal information, riding with a friend, and more.

Why it matters:

Ride-share services life Uber and Lyft are an everyday fact of life for many young people, yet we’ve all heard stories on the news of things going terribly wrong. Learning how to get around on your own is a very grown-up skill, but more important, doing so safely takes a great deal of maturity.

Try it: How To Stay Safe in Rideshares at WebMD

Life skill #25: How to administer basic first aid

How to teach it:

There are many videos and books available that teach basic first-aid skills, but one of the best ways to learn is to enroll in Red Cross first-aid training. The training is offered in and near almost every metro area and is staffed by certified medical professionals. For a few basics, here are First Aid Instructions for 10 Medical Emergencies.

Why it matters:

You never know when you’ll be in a situation where fast action is required. By knowing a few basic first-aid skills, you may be able to help prevent a bad situation from getting worse. In addition, you’ll learn skills that will help you take better care of yourself as well. Many jobs require first-aid certification, so having training may give you a leg up on the competition.

Try it: First Aid Instructions for 10 Medical Emergencies at Verywell Health

Life skill #26: How to be prepared for a natural disaster

How to teach it:

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, emergency drills have been a part of our kids’ lives since kindergarten. Fire drills, lockout drills, lockdown drills—this generation of kids is well versed in the possibility of bad things happening. Here is an awesome article with tips on how to manage and/or evacuate quickly and safely in the case of a natural disaster such as a wildfire, hurricane, earthquake, or tornado.

Why it matters:

Extreme situations are incredibly stressful, and if you’ve never thought about what you might do in case of one, you may panic. Talking about it and learning a few basic survival tips (like having a “go” bag ready!) ahead of time will help your teens keep a level head and have the life skills they need when and if the time comes.

Try it: Disaster Preparedness Tips at National Institutes of Health

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What would you add to our list of life skills every teen should learn? Come share in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, Meet 16 Teens Who Are Changing the World. 



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