What skills should every 18-year-old have?

college students
CC BY 2.0 Matthew Hunt

In response to the question above, a former Stanford dean lists 8 essential skills for success in life - many of which are sadly neglected by parents today.

Nobody said parenting was easy, but that should not be an excuse for parents not to prepare their kids in vital ways for the real world. Sadly, this happens far too often. Children grow into adolescents who leave home and set out wholly unprepared for what lies ahead. Thanks to cheap cell phone plans and FaceTime, things don’t fall apart because Mom and Dad are constantly available to provide advice on how to handle every situation, but that level of dependence can’t possibly be good for anyone.

Parents these days would do well to consider the advice given by former Stanford dean, Julie Lythcott-Haims. In response to the question, “What are the skills every 18-year-old needs?”, Lythcott-Haims replied with a list of eight specific skills that she believes are crucial for a young person’s success in life. All of these, however, require training and grooming by parents from an early age, and some of them go blatantly against societal norms.

My favorite is number 1: “An 18-year-old must be able to talk to strangers.” I have long maintained that teaching kids to fear strangers is a pretty dumb idea. Without confidence in speaking to strangers, I believe that kids are more susceptible to problems, doubtful of help, and more likely to be victimized if their fear of the world is sensed, which it inevitably will be at some point.

Lythcott-Haims describes the problematic attitude that North American kids have toward strangers and why it develops:

“The crutch: We teach kids not to talk to strangers instead of teaching the more nuanced skill of how to discern the few bad strangers from the mostly good ones. Thus, kids end up not knowing how to approach strangers — respectfully and with eye contact — for the help, guidance, and direction they will need out in the world.”

Another excellent point is number 2: “An 18-year-old must be able to find his way around.”

“The crutch: We drive or accompany our children everywhere, even when a bus, their bicycle, or their own feet could get them there; thus, kids don't know the route for getting from here to there, how to cope with transportation options and snafus, when and how to fill the car with gas, or how to make and execute transportation plans.”

Add to that the smart phones that absorb most teens’ attention while on route anywhere, and you can be fairly certain those kids are not memorizing the route or watching their parent navigate traffic as they go. (Richard Louv delves deeper into this problem of kids lacking orientation in his seminal work, "Last Child In The Woods.")

The fact that such a list even needs to be published shows that gaping holes exist in current parenting methods. The 18-year-olds currently being ‘produced’ do not possess the ability to manage money, to hold down a job, to deal with personal problems, or to contribute to the running of a household. They’re essentially unable to be the adult they’re meant to be at that point in life. It’s time for parents to rethink seriously their roles in relation to their kids and to adjust their approach accordingly. Love and protection have their place, but fostering independence is hugely important, too.

See the rest of Lythcott-Haims' list here.

What skills should every 18-year-old have?
In response to the question above, a former Stanford dean lists 8 essential skills for success in life - many of which are sadly neglected by parents today.

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