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Teenagers stuck at home? Here are 13 life skills they can learn now

With schools closed, teens have time to learn the adulting skills that aren’t often covered in class.
crop of teenage girl sitting on bed and using laptop computer
Set aside some time for teens to read on their own, and give them opportunities to share what they have read and learned.Getty Images stock

A few weeks ago, I was worried that with school, activities, work, and socializing, my teenage daughter didn’t have enough time to sleep. That’s come to a hard stop. School is closed, activities are canceled, work has dwindled to almost nothing, and socializing is forbidden. She’s had a few days to chill now, and she needs more than a binge of "Cheer" or "The Circle" to fill the upcoming weeks.

I reached out to experts to find out what skills teens can learn in this unexpected chunk of free time. They shared a bunch of ideas. As a bonus, activities like these that keep kids busy can distract them from the anxiety that’s all around us these days.

1. How to make a phone call

Lisa Hess, adjunct professor of psychology at York College of Pennsylvania, says, “Most teens, and even young adults, are so accustomed to texting that the art of the phone call has completely evaporated from their skill set.”

There’s a good chance you have appointments scheduled in the next few weeks that need to be canceled or rescheduled. Holly Dong, an educational facilitator at Compass Charter Schools in Thousand Oaks, Calif., says this is a skill she’s focusing on with her son. “This is huge for him because he never uses a phone except for texting. Phone calls are really intimidating,” she says.

You can provide your child with a script, and stay close by in case they need help. Even calling for takeout gives them a good opportunity to practice.

2. How to read for fun

Kreigh Knerr of Knerr Learning Center in Delafield, Wisc., says schools don’t often teach self-driven reading. “But learning to guide your own reading is part of adolescent development,” he says. “Further, learning to discuss the ideas encountered in your reading is an even more essential life skill.”

He recommends that parents set aside some time for teens to read on their own, and give them opportunities to share what they have read and learned.

3. How to manage their time

Most high schools set students’ schedules for them. “They don't have a say in what they do when and how they spend their time aside from, occasionally, choosing their classes,” says Talia Kovacs, the CEO of LitLife in Brooklyn, NY. “This changes drastically in college and the workforce when we are expected to manage our own time and make our own schedules.”

Parents can ask teens what they want to learn about, and have them create their own schedule for the day. At the end of each day, they can review how well the schedule worked and make changes for the next day. BestSelf offers a printable daily schedule.

Colleen Gecawich, an academic life coach in Savannah, Ga., recommends designating a specific time when the whole family sits down with their planners/calendars and writes out a plan for the week, including time for fun and for self-care.

4. How to write an email

“Many schools don't teach 21st century writing,” Kovacs says. She says teens need to learn how to communicate with people who aren’t in their social circle. Indeed has some tips.

5. How to plan meals, shop for food, and cook

Sure, anyone can fry an egg. But knowing how much eggs cost, whether you can afford them, and when and where to buy them so they’re in the fridge when you need them takes it to another level.

You can ask your teen to plan your family’s meals for the week, then have them see if the expense for the groceries fits into your budget. If not, have them look for substitutions. Then, have them help prepare meals. Encourage them to factor in nutrition, and to learn how to store and use leftovers.

6. How to handle disappointment

“The disappointment that accompanies all of the missed plans can be the perfect opportunity for teens to create a plan B. What can they do to fill their time? What can they do to find positives in a scary situation?,” says Alexandra Friedmann Finkel, LCSW, cofounder of Kind Minds Therapy in New York City.

Parents can help their teen make a list of alternate activities, like video chatting or listening to music with friends over the phone, and they might want to give teens privileges they don’t normally have, Finkel says.

7. How to take care of a car

Some people feel teens should know how to change the oil or replace a tire. I’m not convinced. They should know when to have the oil changed, though, and what to do if they get a flat tire.

They should also learn how to watch for problems — they can check the oil and tire pressure, top off wiper fluid, replace wiper blades, and stay on top of mileage and dates for routine maintenance and inspections. You can show them how to find this information in your car’s owners’ manual. Lifehacker also has some good tips.

8. How to manage money

Melanie Ross Mills, a family relationship expert in Dallas, recommends setting up a spreadsheet that shows them how they will budget in the future. Teens can research the costs of rent, car payments, insurance, food, and more, and consider how their current grades, hobbies, and goals can help them make that lifestyle achievable. The Balance links to a lot of free sample spreadsheets.

9. How to ask for help

Teens are often under the impression that success is achieved independently, says Gecawich. “Knowing when to ask for help and where to go for help is a much-needed skill in today’s world,” she says. “Ask your teens what resources are available to them and whether they know how to access those resources.”

10. How to organize their space

Now is a great opportunity to clear out clothes and items they’ve outgrown and to set up their desk or study space. Joanne Dominico, a learning strategist at Centennial College in Toronto, says, “A clutter-free study space can help to increase focus and concentration.”

11. How to manage household chores

Your teen can help with laundry, cooking, cleaning, and other household tasks. And instead of nagging them to do one chore at a time, help them put together a schedule for staying on top of everything every day or every week. Home Ec 101 has a sample list to get you started.

12. How to file taxes

If your teen had a job and hasn’t filed taxes yet, or if you haven’t filed your own taxes yet, you can work through them together.

13. How to handle minor household problems and emergencies

Do they know how to check for a flipped circuit breaker? Turn off the water main? Find and use a fire extinguisher? “These are all things that they will need to know once they leave the house,” Mills says. Take a walk though your home and point out where these things are and how to use them.