The summer of 2016 will soon come to a close, and a chapter in my life will end. For almost my entire adult life, I have been the mother of three school-aged children. While all of my children will still be in school for a few more years, the dynamic is shifting, and my world is changing. This was possibly the last summer that our oldest, Rebecca, will be living at home. She will graduate from Mount St. Mary’s in the spring and go on to law school. She is already looking into the cost and availability of apartments in Washington, D.C., and she reminds me often that she will not be returning home after graduation. Of course, I remember telling my mother the same thing when I was at this stage, but desire is often met with that brick wall called affordability, and I ended up living at home another year until I married. But the reality is that she will still be in school, and she will need to live close to the city, so I will have to get used to one of my children no longer being a resident of my home. As Rebecca embarks on her senior year of college and her sister, Katie Ann, starts her senior year of high school, here are some things that I have realized every high school graduate should know how to do:
- Cook a basic meal. The numbers are staggering. Young people today do not know how to cook. It’s something that we talk about all the time when planning camp each summer. Someone needs to make sure that young people know how to cook because most mothers are at work, and grandmas no longer live with, or even near, their extended families. Rebecca found that cooking her own meals in her on-campus apartment was a full one-third the cost of eating in the college cafeteria. The article referenced above from MarketWatch points out that the economy is stable right now, and most young people feel like they can afford to eat out several times a week. Imagine how they would feel with three times the extra money in their pockets. Not to mention, three times fewer calories. Cooking at home would not only pad their bank accounts, it would reduce the padding along their waistlines.
- Sew on a button or mend a hem. Rebecca once tagged me in a post that said, “There has yet to be a school dance when I didn’t have to sew a button or fix a hem for a friend. Thank you, Mom and Girl Scouts, for teaching me to sew.” In an article in the Huffington Post, a mother lamented that she felt like a failure when her twenty-something daughter asked if she could take a pair of pants to a tailor to have a button sewn on. I think there’s a feeling out there that sewing is old fashioned and that girls don’t need or want to know the skill. Think again. Guess what our single, most popular camp program among middle schoolers is. Yep, sewing. Any kind of sewing–hand sewing, machine sewing, quilting, fashion design, etc. Girls are begging to learn how to sew. It’s a skill that they will use for the rest of their lives.
- Do their own laundry. In the same HP article, the writer points out that “clothing maintenance” skills have dramatically decreased. This includes knowing how to properly do laundry. For years, my girls have seen me hanging out certain articles of clothing. Not until she went to school did Rebecca come to understand why. When her brand-new, worn-only-once dress came out of the dryer more aptly sized for her American Girl doll, she called me in tears. I asked, “Did you read the tag? Is it cotton? Does it say not to heat dry?” Stunned silence. It was a mistake she never repeated. But here’s what I think is a bigger issue. The dress shrunk? No problem, I’ll just buy a new one. Bathing suit is too tight and falling apart? So what’s buying another bikini this season going to hurt? We have become a disposable society. For all of our talk about the environment, nobody thinks twice about ruining their clothes and running to Target to buy something new. What would my grandmother say? She would be shocked. Maybe she did wear the same clothes year after year, but she didn’t hesitate to buy something when she needed it because she was frugal. Oh, and she hung out her clothes. Addendum: Using an iron is a lost skill that everyone should know how to do as well. Never show up to an interview or for your first day of an internship wearing wrinkles!
- Learn to save money. There seems to be a common, yet unintentional, thread within this post. Youth today have no idea how or why to save money. The vast majority of young adults have less than $1,000 in their bank accounts and no plans to save for retirement. In a recent US News and World Report article, most youth say that they are not stressed at all about saving or about retirement because they feel they will be better off than my generation. However, and it’s a big however, 40% of them have no plan, and 57% have no savings. I have to wonder how many children or teens today have access to their bank accounts or even know how much is in them, how to save, how to monitor spending. Morgan (age 15) and I recently contacted our bank to set her up as an online customer. They refused. We were told that until she is 16, she cannot have access to her account or obtain information online. So I log into mine and let her check on her balance, ensure that her paycheck was deposited, and plan for summer expenses. We can’t teach our kids about money unless they are earning and learning about saving and spending at an early age.
- Open an “adult” bank account. So this leads me to the next piece of advice. As soon as he or she is old enough, every young person should have his or her own checking account and access to it. I’m not advocating the ability to spend at will. I’m saying that they need the knowledge of what they have, how much they earn, how much they spend, and how much interest they are gathering. They need to know how to write a check, how to use a debit card, and why a debit card can be dangerous. Teach them how to come up with a PIN and how to resist spending every penny in their account on useless things. We can’t teach our kids the proper way to spend and save it we aren’t giving them the tools to do it.
- “Check” the oil. When I got my driver’s license, my father refused to let me drive until I could properly demonstrate how to check my oil and change a tire. With today’s technologically advanced vehicles, a computerized voice practically calls you by name when it’s time to have the oil changed, but that doesn’t mean that we should send kids out in a car that they don’t fully understand how to maintain. I recently had two lights illuminate on my dashboard. I looked them up in the manual, but it simply said to take the car for diagnostics. Three mechanics looked at my car and told me the same thing, “The diagnostics show that nothing is wrong. You’re good to go.” Wait a minute. Really? A little machine tells you that it’s good, so you ignore the lights and just send me home? Three mechanics at three different garages? Oh, let me take that back. It was two mechanics. The third handed me a piece of paper with a code on it and said, “Look it up on YouTube. That might help you figure it out.” What????? My car has been at the dealership since last Thursday. They plan to have it ready by tomorrow, but they’re still trying to figure out what the lights mean. The moral of the story? Know your vehicle, know the warnings, pay attention to how it feels and how it drives, and get the maintenance or the repairs that it needs. You are the pilot, and you need to know when to get something fixed, changed, or checked out.
- Manage time and keep a calendar. When Tommy or Susie goes away to school, no longer will mom or dad be there to tell them to wake up, get in the car, go to school, etc. Kids must know how to manage their time wisely but also how to schedule it. There are so many things out there that are time hogs. A study in Forbes showed that full-time, working millennials waste over 250 days, yes days, per year on social media and web surfing. According to the Washington Post, teenagers spend seven and a half hours a day online. That’s half of their waking hours! I don’t think they even know any more what to do with that time other than be online. As an experiment, have your child document throughout the day each time she goes online and how long she spends there. Perhaps a real conversation is needed about what kinds of productive things she could be doing (I think I’m going to have that conversation tonight – I’m shocked by these numbers). After the conversation, give her a datebook, or just show her the calendar app on that device attached to her hand. Teach her how to manage her time, and be sure she knows how before she leaves for college, or you’ll be wasting a lot of money on her dismal Freshman year.
- Write a formal letter. Writing is a lost art in school. My daughters have many friends in other schools who are able to graduate without ever writing a paper or doing research. Gone are the days when an entire week of English class was spent on the proper techniques of letter writing. This includes emails to professors, bosses, and other important people. Imagine this email based on an Inc. article on the language of millennials: “Dear Professor, I would like to meet with you about my grade. I wanted a hundo p, but I only got a B. I mean, the test was JOMO to begin with, and sorry not sorry, but I deserved a better grade. I mean, really. I can’t even. The struggle is real. My answers were on the fleek and perf, and I’m V proud of them. TBH, I deserved better.” You may think I’m JK, but I do hope this never actually happens,. On the other hand, have you read any of your children’s emails? They can be scary.
- Write a resume. One of the many things that our girls’ high school truly does right is preparing the kids to be successful. This includes knowing how to write a resume. Every junior is required to submit a resume to the guidance office before the last week of school. They cannot go on with their senior activities without one on file. It must be formatted correctly and must detail every job, every club, every award, and every community service event that they earned or participated in. They will continue to build on that resume throughout their senior year, and it will go into their college application packets. Rebecca still uses that same resume. Of course, it has been chopped and updated numerous times, but the format is the same. Some things never change, and the need for an impressive, well-formatted resume is one of them.
- Say NO. Take this as you will, but the bottom line is that your child should know how to stand up for herself or himself in every situation. Teach them that it’s not only okay but essential to stick to their beliefs, go with their gut, say no to illegal substances, say no to sex, even say no to taking on too many roles or activities. While part of this goes back to time management, part of it goes to becoming a responsible adult, and a good chunk of it goes to safety. Be sure that your child knows when, where, and how to draw the line. This might be the first time he or she is on her own. Be confident that she can take care of herself and that he knows what it means to stop before it’s too late.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.
You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.
Crabbing With Granddad (2013)
A Place to Call Home (2014)
Picture Me (2015)
Whispering Vines (2016)