- What are life skills
- 3 types of life skills
- Why life skills are more important than living skills
- How to teach
What Are Life Skills?
As a parent, it’s natural to want your teenager to be equipped with practical skills to help them navigate daily life successfully.
An online search will reveal a list of practical skills teens should learn to live an adult life.
However, while valuable, skills such as money management, laundry, groceries, food cooking, time management, and teamwork do not encompass the full spectrum of skills crucial for your child’s healthy development and successful future.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), life skills are the ability to respond positively and adaptively to the demands and challenges of everyday life1. In other words, life skills are the abilities, knowledge, and skills they need to accomplish their daily responsibilities, reach their goals, and maintain positive mental health.
3 Types of Core Life Skills
In 2014, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly designated July 15 as World Youth Skills Day to recognize the importance of equipping young people with essential life skills.
The UN and WHO have identified ten critical skills that are essential for teen development. They are broadly classified into three categories: thinking skills, social skills, and emotional skills.
Developing these skills may not translate into independence immediately, but it gives teenagers the confidence and capability to master those practical skills and resolve problems on their own.
Why These Life Skills Are More Important
Primary life skills differ from daily living skills, such as using a planner, balancing a budget, operating a dryer or washing machine, doing household chores, or reading a map.
While these tasks are independent living skills teens need before moving away from home, knowing the basics is not enough.
As young people face the realities of life, they need life skills to function confidently and competently for successful lives.
Essential life skills are broader skills for teenagers to solve problems, protect themselves, improve their health, and form positive relationships.
Good life skills contribute to the prevention of substance abuse, sexual violence, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and suicide in kids2.
Research shows that education aimed at developing these life skills for teens makes a positive difference in the following ways.
- Fewer violent behavior
- More pro-social behavior
- Less negative, self-destructive acts
- Increased ability to plan ahead
- Effective problem solving
- Enhanced self-image and self-awareness
- Better behavior and self-control
- Handing interpersonal problems
- Coping with anxiety
- Conflict resolution with peers
Thinking skills include self-awareness, critical thinking, creative thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.
Self-awareness is the ability to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses. Teenagers can discern opportunities and dangers when they know their capabilities and limitations.
Critical thinking is gathering relevant information in order to solve problems or make decisions. It involves evaluating the consequences of their current actions as well as those of others.
Creative thinking allows the development of alternative solutions in difficult situations to achieve a better outcome.
Problem-solving is using analytical skills to evaluate a situation critically and consider alternatives before acting.
All of these skills play an important role in a teen’s decision making 3.
Social skills involve effective communication, negotiation, empathy, and interpersonal relationships.
Effective communication skills allow teens to understand others and avoid miscommunications.
Communicating verbally and non-verbally, listening actively, expressing feelings, and providing feedback are all part of this process.
With negotiation skills, assertiveness and self-advocacy are possible. Mastering language and conversation skills facilitate their success.
Empathy involves listening to and understanding another person’s feelings and needs.
Respecting others and cooperating in teams will help adolescents develop close interpersonal relationships and be accepted by society.
These social skills form the foundation for relationship-building to make friends and create a meaningful romantic relationship4.
Stress management and emotional intelligence make up vital social-emotional skills for youth.
The day-to-day life of a teenager is filled with emotions and stresses, including school and academic stress, peer pressure, criticism, and other factors.
How to Teach Your Teenager Life Skills
Since our children were babies, we have taught them to follow instructions and obey us.
While they learn to function daily, they haven’t learned how to think critically.
During adolescence, when kids are more prone to impulsive behavior, thinking skills are what can prevent them from making risky decisions.
So, in addition to teaching them living skills, such as how to prepare meals or pay for their credit card bills, do the following to teach your teenager life skills.
Teach the Whys
Children learn thinking skills through everyday interactions.
Discussing with teenagers why they should do something is more effective than telling them what to do in teaching thinking skills.
For example, instead of saying, “you need to do your homework,” ask them questions.
“What will happen if you don’t do your homework?”
Guide them to think through the reasoning and the consequences6.
What trouble will they get into? What will the teacher say?
They will not get any points for the assignment. They may fail the class. They may not be able to graduate to the next grade, or getting poor grades will hurt their chances of getting into college. Without advanced education, finding a good job and living a comfortable life will be harder.
Having the consequences explained this way takes much more time than saying, “because I said so.”
But your child can make better decisions by understanding the consequences of their actions.
Many parents assume their children know the consequences and intentionally make poor choices.
But if parents don’t explicitly discuss them, their children won’t know how to take these things into consideration.
Discipline to teach how to think
When teenagers misbehave, punishing them usually leads to resentment rather than learning.
So, instead of punishing them, use this as a chance to help them grow their life skills.
Discussing why their behavior was wrong can improve their critical thinking. Exploring alternative solutions can boost their creative problem-solving skills. Talking about the impact of their actions on others promotes empathy and concern for others.
It may not stop the bad behavior right away, but punishment may not either. Otherwise, you would not have to punish over and over again.
Genuine changes take time.
A child learns their lesson more slowly than adults because their brain is still developing, and they lack life experiences to help them learn.
Teach them patiently. Let them experience the natural consequences if they are not dangerous to anyone’s safety or health7.
Not only will this lead to better behavior, but it will also help them develop better life skills.
Responsive parenting to teach social skills
It’s often assumed that teaching life skills to teenagers involves assigning them tasks or exercises to work on. But, in reality, parenting can have a big impact on how well they grow these skills.
Different parenting styles have different impacts on life-skills development.
A university study involving 660 freshmen found that those with responsive parents tended to have better interpersonal communication, decision-making, health maintenance, and identity development8.
Being a responsive parent means being available to listen and provide resources to help when needed and showing interest and support in their life. This type of parenting helps teens learn life skills because it
- Builds trust and encourages open communication
- Provides a safe environment for exploration and trying new things
- Models positive behaviors and problem-solving strategies
- Offers guidance and support in navigating challenges
Responsive parenting promotes open communication enhancing teenagers’ communication skills. It models caring about others and encourages empathy development.
Having warm, responsive parents also helps children develop a secure attachment and build healthy relationships with others9. It is also associated with better emotional regulation, another essential life skill10.
Some teenagers don’t listen to their parents or care about the consequences explained to them, making it hard to teach them life skills.
When this happens, there is usually a problem in the parent-child relationship, which must be addressed first11.
Check out How to strengthen parent-child relationships to find out how to repair yours.
Teenagers can practice and refine their life skills by participating in more activities, whether inside or outside the classroom12.
These activities provide opportunities for teens to learn valuable skills such as responsibility, common sense, self-management, personal hygiene, and organization skills. They contribute to the development of core life skills.
- 1.Prajapati R, Sharma B, Sharma D. Significance Of Life Skills Education. CIER. Published online December 22, 2016:1-6. doi:10.19030/cier.v10i1.9875
- 2.McDonell JR, Limber SP, Connor-Godbey J. Pathways Teen Mother Support Project: Longitudinal findings. Children and Youth Services Review. Published online July 2007:840-855. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2007.01.001
- 3.Yankey T, Biswas UN. Life Skills Training as an Effective Intervention Strategy to Reduce Stress among Tibetan Refugee Adolescents. Journal of Refugee Studies. Published online March 20, 2012:514-536. doi:10.1093/jrs/fer056
- 4.Tuttle J, Campbell-Heider N, David TM. Positive Adolescent Life Skills Training for High-Risk Teens: Results of a Group Intervention Study. Journal of Pediatric Health Care. Published online May 2006:184-191. doi:10.1016/j.pedhc.2005.10.011
- 5.Yadav P, Iqbal N. Impact of life skill training on self-esteem, adjustment and empathy among adolescents. Journal of the Indian Academy of Applied Psychology. 2009;35(10):61-70.
- 6.Pettit GS, Bates JE, Dodge KA. Supportive parenting, Ecological Context, and Children’s Adjustment: A seven-Year Longitudianl Study. Child Development. Published online October 1997:908-923. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1997.tb01970.x
- 7.Bell S. Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century: Skills for the Future. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas. Published online January 29, 2010:39-43. doi:10.1080/00098650903505415
- 8.Slicker EK, Picklesimer BK, Guzak AK, Fuller DK. The relationship of parenting style to older adolescent life-skills development in the United States. YOUNG. Published online July 1, 2005:227-245. doi:10.1177/1103308805054211
- 9.Wearden A, Peters I, Berry K, Barrowclough C, Liversidge T. Adult attachment, parenting experiences, and core beliefs about self and others. Personality and Individual Differences. Published online April 2008:1246-1257. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2007.11.019
- 10.Morris AS, Silk JS, Steinberg L, Myers SS, Robinson LR. The Role of the Family Context in the Development of Emotion Regulation. Social Development. Published online May 2007:361-388. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2007.00389.x
- 11.Riesch SK, Anderson LS, Krueger HA. Parent-Child Communication Processes: Preventing Children’s Health-Risk Behavior. J Specialists Pediatric Nursing. Published online January 2006:41-56. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6155.2006.00042.x
- 12.Holt NL, Tink LN, Mandigo JL, Fox KR. Do youth learn life skills through their involvement in high school sport? A case study. Canadian Journal of Education. 2008;31(2):281–304.