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9 Life Lessons You Can't Teach Your Teen

Photograph by Twenty20

By the time our little ones become teenagers we'd like to think we've taught them the majority of the important "stuff" they need to know to navigate the world as a grown-up. But what about those things we really can't teach our teens—things you can't really understand until you have lived through them? Most of us can remember situations we have dealt with as a teen or young adult that really left an impression on us. Sometimes these impressions leave a larger imprint on our brains than several hundred "I told you so" rants from a parent. (Having raised two teens, I know.)

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1. Broken hearts always heal

Let her figure out how to move forward.

This is one of the hardest lessons for anyone to learn. Whether you're dumped at the middle school dance or left broken-hearted after a summer romance before your senior year of college, it never gets any easier. But time, distance and a new perspective on the relationship helps young hearts heal more than lectures from parents. Give your teen a hug, acknowledge that you know how it feels and let her figure out how to move forward.

2. Never let your car run out of gas

From the time we learn to drive, our parents are always asking if there is gas in the car. The usual response from a teen is an eye roll or a snort. I remember these questions well, and I'm sure I stored them somewhere in my 16-year-old brain. But nothing taught me this lesson more than the time I actually did run out of gas on my way to work—pre-cell phone, to boot. Schlepping to the gas station to fill a gas can and arriving to work late left quite an impression. I haven't run out of gas since.

3. Life isn't always fair

It's the familiar cry from every child in history: "It's not fair!" Well, it turns out that life itself really isn't fair at all. Can we really teach our kids this life lesson? We can try, but the impact of the unfairness might not stick until they experience it as a teen or young adult. Maybe he does all the right things, yet doesn't get accepted at the college of his choice. Maybe she keeps getting the crap assignments or the worst shifts at work. Life's not fair—and your kids will learn to deal. Trust me.

4. Sometimes you have to do awful things

Horrible things. And nothing your parents ever taught you as a child can prepare you for them. Cleaning up after the first time your kid has a barf-fest will be one of them. Or the first time you have to tell someone that a loved one has died. These are the hard things you just have to do on your own.

5. A good friend is worth the effort

As parents we are the architects of our children's earliest friendships. We analyze each playmate for BFF potential, map out the perfect playdates and encourage everyone to include everyone else. But true friendships take effort and work to stay healthy. Just ask anyone who has lost an important friendship to neglect. It's a tough lesson to learn, but an important one.

6. There are lessons in failures

She is building resilience and strength. You can't buy that.

You can't always understand it at the time, and especially not if your parents keep reminding you. But life experience seems to prove this time and time again, and every time your teen deals with rejection or failure, she is building resilience and strength. You can't buy that.

7. Grief is normal

There is nothing you can do or say to help make the blow of death any easier on your kids. Nothing. Living through it—whether it's a beloved family pet or a young friend—is the only way your teen or young adult can really understand. It's a hard pill to swallow at any age.

8. Set aside some money

Even just a little. Sure, we all do some version of budgeting 101 when our kids are young. And saving $2 per week to buy the coveted Nintendo game teaches patience and the value of money. But one of the hardest things to teach is that it's always good to have a small stash "just in case." Teens won't even hear this lesson (until they need a car repair or a replacement iPhone). Saving for a rainy day is important for so many reasons, and a lesson best learned the hard way.

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9. Be someone people can count on

We all want our kids to be someone reliable, consistent and trustworthy. And while we can nurture these traits in our kids, truly stepping up and being a team player is something they have to accomplish alone. That first time your teen lets someone down—whether at work or in his social circle—makes a lasting impression and makes him want to be better.

Life is hard, and even the best parents can't teach all the rules all the time. Give your kids the building blocks, and they will fill in the gaps as they grow and mature along the way.

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