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How to prepare your teen for the real world

One of the most difficult things for teenagers is the transition from being completely dependent on their parents into the real world, where they need to act responsibly and maturely to be successful. Though much focus is on protecting our children as they grow up, we also must allow them to take calculated risks, learn to fail and do real-life problem solving.

mom talking to teen gen iY

We consulted speaker and author Tim Elmore, who specializes with what he calls “Generation iY” — current teenagers. He founded the international non-profit Growing Leaders to develop young leaders who will transform society. “The number one challenge students today face is what I call artificial maturity,” says Elmore. “This challenge stems from the fact that kids are consuming information far earlier than they are ready and gaining real life experience far later than they’re ready.”

Preparation for adulthood

Before teens enter the real world, we need to prepare them for what to expect. Otherwise, they will encounter many obstacles. By instilling moral values, responsible behavior and a strong work ethic in your teens, you will be doing all you can to prepare them for life after high school or college.

Respect and responsibility. We all know that you have to give respect to get respect. And this is an important lesson for kids of all ages. Teach your children as early as possible about the value of respect and responsibility. Hold them accountable for their actions with suitable consequences. Insist they participate in chores to keep the household running smoothly, and allow them to get a job to earn their own money.

Learn more about why you should teach responsibility >>

Money management. Make budgeting and money management a common topic in your household. Handing your child a credit card or giving them unlimited funds to purchase clothes, games and other entertainment isn’t doing your teen any favors. Educate your family about the need for comparison shopping, how to avoid money scams, the costs of regular expenses (such as cell phones) and the importance of budgeting.

Read more about how to raise a money-savvy teen >>

Community involvement. Successful people know and care about what’s going on in their community and around the world. Watch the news with your teens. Discuss politics regularly and get them involved in community activities and charity opportunities.

Find out how to help your child volunteer their time >>

Armed for success

Parents need to make an effort to put their children in the position to succeed in life. Elmore discusses how can parents help high schoolers capitalize on their strengths in order become successful leaders.

“Ultimately, people mature as both autonomy and responsibility are distributed evenly,” explains Elmore. “If a young person wants autonomy (to be free and independent), they must demonstrate an equal amount of responsibility to earn it. For instance, if my son wants the car keys, he cannot get them unless he agrees to buy the gas. It’s simple and life only works when the two go together. When autonomy comes without responsibility, parents are doing too much protecting and not enough preparing.

“When a student learns what their primary strengths are, they can build on them and consequently bolster authentic self-esteem, a clear sense of unique identity and even a work ethic, as they labor passionately in an area of their giftedness. While I am far from perfect as a dad and an educator, my two kids are realizing this today, at 19 and 23 years old. When young people find and invest themselves in their strength area, they are more intuitive, passionate, natural, confident, comfortable and influential in that area.”

Multi-tasking teens

Teens today multi-task more than any other population of children in modern history. Many parents and teachers wonder: Is this good for them or not? Does it increase their ability to take on more or does it simply dilute their focus?

“Thanks to the incredible brain research done over the last decade, we know more about the teen brain that’s still developing during these years. The effects this multitasking has on still-forming brains can be positive and negative,” says Elmore. Elmore claims the key is balance. Here are some of his ideas to achieve that balance.

  • Help them balance screen time with face-to-face time with people. For every hour they spend in front of a screen, have them spend an hour with people.
  • Help them balance connected time with disconnected time — ask them to disconnect from phones and computers for two hours and focus on one important goal.
  • Help them balance sedentary time with active time. For each hour spent sitting still (often in front of a screen), engage them in physical activity.
  • Help them to balance trivial time with meaningful time. Especially for teens, they need to engage in meaningful work that contributes to a cause larger than themselves.
  • Help them balance passive stimulation time with personal creative time. Provide project objectives that force them to create ideas that come from within, not from an external source.


With some effort and preparation, we can help our teens enter the real world with a strong foundation and sense of direction.

More about parenting teens

10 Tips for raising moral kids
Responsibility and your teen’s first job
Freedom and responsibility for tweens and teens

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