Closeup Rachel Wigglesworth

Rachel Wigglesworth, once a wildlife biologist, turned her research skills toward another passion: childhood development and parenting.

Google “adulting.”

When I did I found at least three pages of links to classes, online resources and videos that teach young adults how to be adults. Alarm bells should ring here.

Seventy-five percent of parents of young adults ages 18 to 28 report that they remind their adult children of deadlines they need to meet and make appointments for them. Twenty percent fewer teenagers have jobs than they did in the 1970s, and 15% fewer have drivers’ licenses, author and professor Jean Twenge says.

This documented slowing of teen and young adult development marks a radical change compared to those who grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s. Parents are doing more for their kids and kids are feeling less capable of doing things for themselves.

After my series on ideas stemming from the college admissions scandal (read here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4), it is time for action. What steps can you take with your children at home to help them be more confident, be more capable and have more agency as young adults and beyond (and avoid a future “adulting” class later). Here are some ways to start:

Allow your children to advocate for themselves. Let them talk to the grocery clerk who mischarged them. Coach them on how to ask a teacher about an assignment or a grade. Encourage a child to directly handle a difficult conversation with a friend to resolve their differences. Support your child in approaching others and using their voice.

It is easy for kids to hide behind their parents. In this day and age kids can also hide behind texts, social media and email. Instead, let’s show our kids how to communicate challenges in person.

Give your kids household responsibilities — and don’t pay them for it! Studies show kids who do chores at home fare better academically, and as adults do better in the job sector and with personal relationships.

Model the real world. Your children are most likely not going to have maids when they leave home, so why be their maid now? And if they have a lot of homework, it’s appropriate to still require chores that night because later in life when they have a job and deadlines, they are still going to have to go grocery shopping and do their laundry. Plus, no one pays you to clean your house, so why should you pay your kids to do the same?

Support your kids in solving their own problems. When our children are young, it’s easy to answer all their questions and solve all their problems — and sometimes it is appropriate to do this. The problem arises when we continue this pattern out of habit and answer their questions or tell them how to resolve their conflicts when they are old enough to do so themselves. If your 15-year-old asks you how to repair a friendship, for example, ask her curious questions. Even if you think you have a good solution ask: “What is important to you here?” Express your faith in her abilities: “I trust you can solve this problem on your own. I’m here if you need to talk through some of your ideas.”

Teach your kids to manage their own screen time. If they have a daily limit of one hour per day, make it their job to manage this time. Teach them to use a timer and to have the self control to stop when the timer buzzes. If kids can’t stop themselves or if they have an emotional meltdown every time they get off their screens, it shows you they aren’t ready to handle the responsibility. Take the device away for a reasonable period of time (as per your previously set agreement). Really — you can do this. Teaching this kind of time management now sets an expectation so that when they are 16 and their curfew is midnight they know you mean midnight — not 12:10 or 12:30.

Help your kids learn how to manage money. You can give them an allowance, and it doesn’t have to be tied to chores. The purpose of giving an allowance is to give your kids real-life experience handling money. Once you give money to your kids, you let them decide how to spend it.

If they want to blow it all on some crappy plastic toy, let them. This allows them to act on their preferences rather than being told that what they like isn’t OK, and if the thing breaks after an hour of playing with it they might make a different choice next time.

Giving our kids money and, importantly, requiring they get a job when they are old enough — and not micromanaging how they spend their money — teaches skills like spending, saving and giving. So when they leave home they will know how to pay their bills and still have extra cash.

Importantly, don’t throw expectations you have of your kids at them without warning. Family meetings are a good time to introduce expectations and get your kids’ input so that the expectations become an agreement rather than an ultimatum. You’ll get more buy- in that way.

Scaffold competencies you want to teach your children by offering age-appropriate support in learning new tasks. Often children are ready to learn new skills earlier than we realize. Teaching adulting skills requires patience, empathy and sometimes a bit of detachment. Your kids might protest loudly. Your job is to remain calm, empathize with their feelings, restate the agreement or expectation and hold your boundary. Act firm and kind.

Last, our kids are going to mess up throughout the process of learning skills and becoming competent. It is our job to encourage, support and believe in their abilities and good intentions. Hammering them for a job forgotten or poorly done doesn’t help; it builds resentment and makes the child less willing to do the job in the future.

We want our kids to be our partners — remember we are creating agreements — and no one wants to partner with someone who is always criticizing. For a job forgotten you can simply say: “Wow, you weren’t able to manage your screen time today. Our agreement is that you lose those privileges for X amount of time. I trust you’ll be able to manage your use better next time.”

We want our kids to thrive in the world beyond our four walls. They can’t do that unless they have the skills. They learn those skills by becoming active members of the household by cooking, cleaning, doing yard work, helping pay the bills, buying a car, paying for gas and insurance, leaving the house on time and resolving conflict.

It’s all part of “adulting,” and we can teach this class at home for free.

Rachel Wigglesworth has a master’s degree in parent and family education. She offers classes and coaching to parents and caregivers of children and teens at GrowingGreatFamilies.org. Email her at growinggreatfamilies@gmail.com or find her on Facebook.

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