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Lifestyle

January 31, 2013

Life 101: A lesson plan for teens

Everyone graduates from high school knowing how to read, write and do basic math (hopefully). But to be a self-sufficient adult, those skills are not enough. In fact, they're nowhere close to enough.

Advanced skills in academic areas aren't going to help a young adult out of every jam he is likely to face in the next few years. Most of those predicaments probably will have nothing to do with Shakespeare, trigonometry or world history.

What will he do when his car breaks down or he gets sick? Does she know how to navigate a job interview or a lunch with co-workers? Is he responsible with his money?

Schools teach many of these skills, either directly or woven into other academic subjects. But it's up to parents to make sure their teens can take care of themselves in the world.

Here are some of the skills educators think are crucial to becoming an independent adult and how to teach them to your teens.

— Budgets and money

It's important for teens to know how interest works and how to track their bank accounts online, said Maril Jackson, supervisor of school counseling for Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia.

Make sure your teen has his own bank account, and if he doesn't, take him to the bank to open it, says Neale Godfrey, president and CEO of GreenStreet Commons and chairman of the Children's Financial Network. It is important for him to know how to use the bank in person before he starts managing his account online, she said.

Help young teen-agers practice managing money by giving them a quarterly clothing budget, Godfrey suggests. Have them come up with a list of what they need, where they will buy the clothes and how much they will cost.

Then go over the budget and make adjustments as necessary. Agree on a spending limit for that quarter, and load it onto a debit card for them to use to purchase their clothes.

"[It's] the concept of 'This is it; this is your amount,' " Godfrey said. "And with the clothing budget, if they want to spend $150 on designer jeans, fine, but you're not putting any more in there. The kid is holding the debit card, and they have control of it."

Give them a monthly budget instead of one that lasts for a semester or longer, she added. And hold off on the credit cards until your teen has managed a debit card and budgeted responsibly for several months, Godfrey said.

Handling monthly expenses will help your teen learn how to set a household budget and work within it. Managing home finances is a key skill, according to Andrea Bechberger, a career and technical education specialist for Virginia's Prince William County Schools.

A good way to practice this, Bechberger said, is to give him a project, such as planning a family vacation. Set a spending limit and destination, then have him work out how much to spend on lodging, food, transportation and activities.

"It's going to affect their financial welfare throughout their lives, being able to make those good decisions," Bechberger said. "I laugh when we have kids go through the reality experiments. I can't tell you how many kids say, 'I'm never going to have a child' when they see the cost. It's a real eye-opener for them."

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