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10 Real Life Skills You Need to Teach Your Kids This Summer

Photograph by Twenty20

"No way will he start driving this summer!" a friend tells me about her teenage son. "He doesn't even know how to get home from four blocks away from our house."

I am stunned.

Granted, I don't have teens yet, but I would bet at least $100 that my six and five-year-olds could get home from four blocks away should I go rogue and drop them off by themselves one day to find their way back.

Life skills, people. They're important. And we modern day parents are forgetting them.

What happened to being aware, paying attention, getting out of comfort zones and figuring things out without a GPS? Blame social media and screen time, blame exhausting working parenthood, blame all the stressful demands we have pounding down on us these days.

No matter the reason, I'm afraid we're forgetting about important, basic, "old-fashioned" life skills our kids need to learn. Myself included. We all know better.

Which is why I'm hijacking this post to throw freezing cold water on all of us to wake up before we completely degenerate this next generation.

So in no particular order, here are 10 life skills I challenge us to introduce to our kids this summer, no matter what age they happen to be:

1. Eat a whole meal—at home and in public—with no devices.

Common Sense Media has reported approximately half of all teens feel anxious and addicted to their phones. Occupational therapists have told me that an increased number of incoming Kindergartners are consistently lacking appropriate fine motor skills because of "swiping." The next time you dine out, look around at what families are doing at tables. This is our fault.

2. Visit an elderly person.

Empathy, compassion and respect for others in different generations doesn't breed itself. Charge your kids with taking a small bunch of flowers to your octogenarian neighbor to thank her for keeping an eye on your home while you were on a family vacation. Require them to talk to her and ask some questions about how her weekend was—they just might learn something.

3. Go to an event where you don't know anyone else.

Learning to thrive and be in an environment that's unfamiliar teaches a kid more in five minutes than we realize. Enroll them in a one-time class or activity outside of their usual group. Let them feel nervous, let them sort through it, let them learn how to cope and prove to themselves that they can rise up and be comfortable in their own skin (and maybe make a new friend that day.)

4. Let them be bored more.

Yes, it's okay to watch TV all day once in a while (as long as it doesn't become the norm). I like to say, "Downtime regenerates our brains." I've done a few TV segments now citing legit experts and educators' positivity about how boredom launches imagination, teaches us how to problem solve and makes us more resilient in the long run. Next time your kid says, "I'm bored," say "That's great! No go find something to do."

5. Make kids order their own food.

In a restaurant, at a walk-up hot dog stand, by calling to order a pizza (no social-inhibiting apps allowed). If a 3-year old can scream bloody murder at the top of her lungs to protest you putting her in a timeout for throwing a book across the room, then she can surely look a server in the eye and say, "Mac-and-cheese, please." As for teens, challenge them to dial the local pizza joint on an actual phone, talk to the stranger who picks up and go through the prompts of "Is this for pickup or delivery" hoopla. Let them give the credit card number over the phone and everything. No excuses. They must learn.

Not everyone gets the attention and trophy all the time... and that's a good thing.

6. Ask a stranger for directions (with your supervision, of course.)

Yeah, apps like Waze are awesome, but they're also stripping our kids of interacting, communicating and understanding people they might not know. Approaching a decent stranger to ask for information that you need is a lost skill—learning how to open a conversation kindly, communicate your need, listen to them... you get my drift. Like my mom says, "Nobody has to talk, figure out anything or even look at a map anymore." She's right.

7. Make your kid guide you from one location to another.

I started doing this with my daughters in our car when they were toddlers as a funny game to pass time. "Tell me how to get home from here," I'd ask. They'd start and then get lost (naturally, they were only 3 and 4!) I started doing it more seriously after my friend confessed that her teen didn't know how to get home. Require your kids to look out the window, pay attention, learn their surroundings and develop a sense of direction. They can't do it if they're watching "Peppa Pig" in the backseat.

8. Leave them home alone (age appropriately, of course.)

Confident responsibility takes practice. When my sister and I were 9 and 10, we unlocked an empty house after school and then locked it up again once we were inside. We'd stay home alone for about an hour before my mom returned from work. Maybe you stayed home alone every so often as a kid too. Yes, it's a different time now, but a 13-year-old should not require a babysitter.

9. Get them to build or cook something without your help.

I tend to avoid this because I don't want a bigger mess in the kitchen than necessary, but I'm afraid I have to suck this one up and just do it. Following a recipe—reading, measuring, doing—is a skill that lasts beyond the kitchen. This goes for girls and boys, by the way. Moms of boys are raising future husbands who I hope will one day make their families eggs and pancakes for breakfast without hesitation...

10. Take them to a game/activity/concert to sit in the audience or watch from the benches to support a friend.

Life is not always about doing things for the personal glory. Learning how to cheer on others from the sidelines, without participating, is something else I am hell-bent on my girls learning. When my younger daughter was asked to be in a family wedding—and my older one wasn't—we took that opportunity to get our big sister excited and happy to watch and clap for her little sister to walk down the aisle. Same goes for little sister when she watches big sister's gymnastics. Not everyone gets the attention and trophy all the time... and that's a good thing.

Cheers to kicking ourselves in the butt to raise responsible, capable, confident kids who know how to help themselves and thrive in sometimes uncomfortable situations.

So get ready kids, we're trying new things this summer.

For your own good... for all of our own good.

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