The teen years are no joke. Many parents of 15-year-old kids are constantly hearing from them how their friends get to do so much more than they are allowed to do and how they are being treated like babies. And there are times when, if we’re honest with ourselves, we can admit that we might be holding them back from independently completing certain tasks that we aren’t sure they can perform on their own.
When it comes to their capabilities and maturity levels, all children are different. If your kid can’t pair socks to save her life, she isn’t alone — she’ll get there. But experts Stacy Haynes, CEO and counseling psychologist at Little Hands Family Services, and Dr. Mayra Mendez, a psychotherapist and a program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center, say it’s important to allow young teens to master these 11 critical life skills in order to set them up for greater independence. Remember, college is just a few years away — and there’s only so much laundry your washing machine can hold at once in one weekend home.
1. Manage money — Sure, they’re still years away from investing in stocks and bonds, but the average 15-year-old should open up their own checking and savings accounts, Haynes says, and be taught how to check their balances and, when necessary, write a check to cover the cost of sporting equipment, classes or school trips. A healthy respect for money now will only help them in the future.
2. Do laundry — Both Haynes and Mendez agree: A 15-year-old can sort colors from whites, measure the appropriate amount of detergent so that the washing machine doesn’t explode with suds and even fold their own laundry and put clothing back into drawers. They may need to be shown how to do it (a few hundred times), but it shouldn’t take long for them to become laundry pros.
3. Order food — If it’s a late night for you at work or no one feels like cooking, your teen should be able to call the local pizzeria or take-out restaurant, place an order and handle the transaction when the food arrives at your door, Haynes says.
4. Ask for help — Whether they took a wrong turn at the mall or aren’t feeling well at school, they should know how to ask for directions or help to get themselves out of a jam.
5. Swallow pills — When your teen gets a headache or worse, they should be able swallow pills like antibiotics and Tylenol with a glass of water without you having to crush them up or hide them in tastier beverages, Mendez says.
6. Remember to take necessary medication — You may not be able to keep yourself from checking on them (just in case), but a teen should remember to take their medication each day when necessary, Mendez says. A reminder posted on the fridge can also help.
7. Manage hygiene — From showering or bathing independently to using deodorant without any prompting, brushing and flossing their teeth and attending to their own nails and hair, Mendez says, a 15-year-old is perfectly capable of grooming themselves without help. The good news is this shouldn’t be much of a struggle. Have you ever tried to even touch a 15-year-old boy’s hair? Not a pretty reaction.
8. Follow a recipe — Time to put your feet up and let your teen cook dinner! OK, maybe not quite, but Mendez says young teens can be trusted to read a recipe, know which items need to be purchased at the grocery store, are able to measure ingredients with accuracy and prepare a simple, basic meal. Chicken and frozen waffles may not be your thing every night, but it’s a great go-to when you’re exhausted.
9. Stay home alone — Parents consider it a milestone when they can leave their child alone at home for a few hours without dragging them around town on errands. At 15, Mendez says, kids should demonstrate a level of responsibility that makes you feel confident you can give them a set of keys to your home and allow them to stay by themselves.
10. Take responsibility for their own activities — They aren’t asking you to set up their play dates or plan out their entire summers at 15, Mendez says. Instead, they are participating in community activities and beginning to understand time commitments so they can take possession of their daily schedules.
11. Use public transportation alone — If you live in an area where teens can take a bus or subway to get to school or an event, Mendez says, 15 is the magic age when they should be able to pay their fare and ride without you.
Isn’t independence a wonderful thing?