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The life skills for teens most ‘overlooked’ by parents

Over the years of working with parents, teachers, and caregivers about adolescent development, we’ve received many questions about what life skills to teach teens.

Many recommended skill sets highlight practical tasks, such as doing laundry, grocery shopping, and balancing a checkbook. Yet, the skills the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO) advocate for teens are quite different. 

The key difference lies in the focus: while the typical list centers on “living skills” for day-to-day activities, the UN and WHO stress the importance of “life skills.” These abilities equip teenagers to recover from challenges and continue to thrive in their adult life.

Why are life skills more important than living skills?

Living skills are undeniably useful for teenagers, offering a practical toolkit for day-to-day life. Yet, they often fall short in preparing them for the unexpected twists and turns of life. 

Practical living skills don’t equip teens with the strategies to think on their feet, confront new challenges head-on, or recover from setbacks with resilience. 

To truly prepare for the complexities of adulthood, teenagers must learn not just how to perform tasks but also how to adapt when situations change, find creative solutions to problems they’ve never faced, and muster the strength to rise again after experiencing failure.

On the other hand, life skills allow teenagers to seek out and adapt to new tasks even if they haven’t been formally taught. These broader skills lay a foundation for self-directed learning and the ability to navigate unfamiliar territory.

The life skills for teens that are more important than cooking or cleaning are thinking skills, social skills, and emotional skills.​1​

mother teaches teenage daughter homework

What are the 10 life skills?

The 10 core life skills are divided into three categories as follows.​2​

Thinking skills

  • Critical thinking – gather relevant information to solve problems or make decisions. It involves evaluating the consequences of their current actions and those of others.
  • Creative thinking – think of alternative solutions to difficult situations to achieve a better outcome.
  • Problem-solving – evaluate situations critically and consider alternatives before acting.
  • Decision making – combine all thinking skills to make sound judgments.

Social skills

  • Effective communication – understand others, communicate verbally and non-verbally, listen actively, express feelings, provide feedback, negotiate, be assertive, and avoid miscommunications. 
  • Interpersonal relationship – develop close relationships by respecting others, cooperating in teams, and showing pro-social behavior accepted by society.
  • Empathy – listen to and understand other’s feelings and needs.

Emotional skills

  • Self-awareness – recognize an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Teenagers can discern opportunities and dangers when they are aware of their capabilities and limitations.
  • Coping with stress – manage various life stresses from home, school, peers, and outside criticism.
  • Coping with emotion – cope with different feelings, such as anger, grief, and anxiety, to develop healthy self-esteem and a positive attitude.

How to Teach Your Teenager Life Skills

Build a solid parent-child relationship

A solid parent-child relationship forms the basis of your teen’s development and success in many ways.

Teenagers learn better from those they like and respect. When you have a stronger relationship with your child, they are more receptive to what you have to teach.

Good parent-child relationships are linked to secure attachment, academic success, social skills, health, communication, and emotional development.​3​

The following can help parents strengthen their relationships.

Be warm and responsive

Research shows that warm and responsive parenting helps children develop a secure attachment. Children feel safe and loved and see the world in a good way. These kids often get along with others and develop good interpersonal relationships.

Children with warm and responsive parents also tend to have better empathy and coping skills.​4​

Teach using reasoning, rather than giving orders

Thinking skills can develop through understanding the “why” behind what they do every day.

For example, replace “You must do your homework” with “What happens if you don’t? Help your teen think about the consequences of not doing homework: losing points, not learning as much, not getting good grades, and limiting college and career opportunities.

Explaining what could happen takes more time than just saying, “Because I said so.” But seeing the reasoning behind helps kids understand how one choice can lead to another, like dominoes in a line. Teaching them how to connect the dots allows teens to think before they act and make better choices.

Sometimes kids make bad choices even when they know they shouldn’t. This can happen if the child doesn’t get to make choices often. When they finally do, they may pick the wrong one simply to feel the power of having control. Kids who are always told what to do might make a bad choice on purpose, just to go against the rules. Other times, kids make mistakes because nobody has shown them how to think about what might happen next.

So explaining and helping your child think about everyday life decisions and the consequences is the first step in teaching teenagers thinking skills.​5​

Your child’s communication skills can also be improved by discussing the different options.

Practice responsible decision-making

The best way to help teenagers learn to make decisions is to give them the chance to do so themselves, under your guidance.

It’s about guiding them, not just telling them what to do. 

Offer your child opportunities to choose and encourage them to weigh their options. Encourage them to solve problems creatively. Be there to support and offer advice, but allow them the space to pick their path.

This hands-on experience is invaluable; it empowers them to think critically and creatively and understand the consequences of their actions.

Use positive discipline

Use natural consequences, rather than punishment, to discipline.

Punishing is one of the most common ways to strain a parent-child relationship. Punishment is not needed to teach teens life skills. 

Teaching without punishment works, but it requires patience. Let your teenager experience the natural consequences of issues that don’t pose a danger.​6​

What are the benefits of life skills?

Having essential life skills contribute to the prevention of drug abuse, sexual violence, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and suicide.​7​

Education aimed at developing crucial life skills has produced the following impacts.​8​

  • 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 of interpersonal problems
  • Coping with anxiety
  • Conflict resolution with peers

What daily living skills should teenagers have?

Here is a list of everyday skills for teenagers to be able to live independently.

  • Basic food skills
  • Basic cooking skills
  • Basic household tasks
  • Time management skills
  • Organization skills
  • Budgeting skills
  • Basic first-aid skills
  • Navigational skills
  • Stress management

These valuable skills can also be taught along with core life skills in everyday interactions.

Final thoughts

Knowing how to operate the washing machine, prepare a healthy meal, change a flat tire, and switch out the battery in the smoke alarm are important everyday life skills we should teach teenagers. However, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture.

Knowing the core life skills will allow our teenagers to be flexible, resilient, and thrive even in challenging situations.


  1. 1.
    Nasheeda A, Abdullah HB, Krauss SE, Ahmed NB. A narrative systematic review of life skills education: effectiveness, research gaps and priorities. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth. Published online May 29, 2018:362-379. doi:10.1080/02673843.2018.1479278
  2. 2.
    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
  3. 3.
    López Turley RN, Desmond M, Bruch SK. Unanticipated Educational Consequences of a Positive Parent‐Child Relationship. J of Marriage and Family. Published online September 29, 2010:1377-1390. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00771.x
  4. 4.
    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
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    Pettit GS, Bates JE, Dodge KA. Supportive parenting, Ecological Context, and Children’s Adjustment: A seven‐Year Longitudianl Study. Child Development. Published online August 1997:908-923. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1997.tb01970.x
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    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
  7. 7.
    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
  8. 8.
    Riesch SK, Anderson LS, Krueger HA. Parent–Child Communication Processes: Preventing Children’s Health‐Risk Behavior. Specialist Pediatric Nursing. Published online January 2006:41-56. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6155.2006.00042.x


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *