It can be overwhelming thinking about everything your teenager needs to know to be fully prepared for college. You can't foresee everything that will crop up during those first few years away from home, but helping your son or daughter master these ten life skills will ease the transition.

1. How to approach problems

No one expects an 18-year old to be able to solve every problem he encounters. But he does need to know where to start. Your teen needs to develop the ability to define a problem, look at possible solutions, decide which decision-makers and influencers can help, make an appointment and make a case for whatever it is he's trying to achieve.

You don't want a four hour return trip on the weekend to help him drop a course or return an impulse buy to a store.

2. How to use grown-up technology

We assume that teenagers are tech-savvy, but often they're only savvy with teen tech. You can't communicate with your professors via Snapchat and Facetime.

As a new college student, you need to know how to use (and remember to check) email, including your official college based email account (the one that's called something like, not just your personal Gmail account (which might be called

As Shannon Reed points out in this Washington Post article:

"At most schools in the United States, students will be asked to use an online system (such as CourseWeb) to check their campus email regularly and to mail files to professors."

Unfortunately, many of them don't know how. This is the technology of higher education and the workplace. Many teens don't use it regularly.

I only realized recently that my teenagers rarely check their email and don't really know how to do basic things like attach a file. For their purposes, a picture or screenshot suffices in most circumstances. According to my 15-year-old 'no-one does email anymore.' Instead, they choose to text, iMessage or send a Snap. However, professors don't communicate in these ways, nor does the Dean of the university.

3. How to feed himself

Whether he'll be cooking for himself, relying on a meal plan, or surviving on take-out and snacks, make sure he has the knowledge and skills to put a healthy, balanced diet into his body each day.

4. How to take care of his clothes

I recently saw this picture on Facebook. It is funny, but almost too true for most teens:

Your teen needs to know how to read care labels. Also, how to sort laundry, clean shoes and sew a button on.

5. How to organize his personal space

If you've always cleaned up after him and returned things to their proper place so he can find them again, he's in for a shock. If you hear the words, "Mom, where's my ..." on a daily basis, you need to help your teen get organized, find places for things and learn to keep them there. Things will only get worse when he's in a dorm situation and sharing with a roommate.

6. How to study independently

Yes, your teen got through high school. That involved a lot of studying. It probably also involved a lot of being spoon-fed tasks by teachers and you nagging about homework. That won't happen at college. It's worth spending time during the last couple of years of high school perfecting a planning system and encouraging independent study.

7. How to make smart choices

The teenage brain isn't great at decision making. This is a natural consequence of how slowly the human brain matures and develops. According to,"Decision making centers of the brain continue to develop well into the early twenties."

This means it's a challenge to prepare an 18-year-old for all the choices he'll have to make during the next few years. While you can't override the slow maturation of the human brain, you can certainly teach some basic strategies for making good decisions, and let your teenager know that he can call home for some advice on the big ones.

8. How to budget

Taking care of yourself financially is a shock for most college bound students. Good financial education during the teen years is vital. Learning to budget is particularly important. Every time your college student realizes he doesn't have enough budget left at the end of the month, you will have to step in.

9. How to live with others

Living with others who are not related to you and don't love you unconditionally is very different from family life. Encourage consideration, compromise, and tolerance. They'll all be needed in varying quantities during that first year in dorms or other student accommodation.

10. Basic DIY and car maintenance

New college students should know how to fix stuff and maintain it. At the bare minimum your teen should be able to follow written directions, assemble simple furniture or appliances, wire a plug, change a light bulb, and change and recharge batteries in all his devices and appliances. You don't want another four-hour roundtrip to assemble a water filter jug, or change the filter on it.

If your teen is taking a car to college, he should probably know how to check oil and water levels, put coolant in it and jump start it if necessary.

11. How to date, unchaperoned

Hopefully your teen knows how to stay safe, treat the opposite sex appropriately, and handle relationships generally, but he will no longer have your daily guidance or your watchful eyes on him. The summer before college is a good time to reinforce everything we want our teens to know about healthy relationships, respecting themselves, their body and other people, and dating responsibly.

If your teen has mastered these basic life skills, it's probably time to sit back, let him go and say a little prayer. He's as ready as he'll ever be.

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