Building Independent Living Skills


Most young people are eager to get out on their own. But in order to make a healthy transition to adulthood, they must first develop certain basic living skills. Older adolescents may already be familiar with many of these skills. But parents can help build independence by encouraging good habits and including teens in their own daily routines.

Grocery shopping and meal plans. Parents should include teens in meal planning, showing them how to stick with a budget while making healthy choices for a balanced diet. Go to the grocery store together, teaching them how to choose the best produce and leanest cuts of meat. Encourage kids to choose fresh, seasonal foods rather than processed items, and teach them to read nutrition labels.

Cooking 101. The idea of cooking a meal can be pretty scary for a beginner, but by learning their way around the kitchen, teens will eat healthier and save money. Start by reviewing kitchen safety and cleanliness, and then move into simple dishes, such as scrambled eggs. Soups and stews can be inexpensive and easy for young adults to prepare on their own. Other healthy options include salads, stir-fry and grilled dishes, but be sure to include family favorites like tacos and spaghetti, as well.

Household chores. By helping out with daily or weekly household tasks, adolescents learn important skills and gain a sense of responsibility. Parents can get kids involved early by creating a “chore wheel” or colorful chart to help divide up regular duties. Older teens should be able to help with vacuuming or mopping floors; cleaning bathrooms; dusting or polishing furniture; washing dishes; and cleaning out the refrigerator. And with a little practice, they also should be able to handle bigger jobs, such as lawn care and car maintenance.

Laundry. Clean clothes are a part of good grooming and hygiene. Show teens how to sort laundry according to color and fabric type, reminding them to read labels and follow directions. Show them basic cycle options on both the washer and dryer. Cold water is usually the safest bet, unless clothes are heavily stained or dirty. Towels and linens require warmer temperatures to sanitize.

First aid/emergencies. Accidents are bound to happen from time to time, and young adults need to know how to handle them. Every home should have a first-aid kit stocked with supplies such as a thermometer; antiseptic wipes or solutions; antibiotic ointments; sterile gauze and bandages; tweezers; calamine lotion; and instant cold packs. Talk to teens about first aid, how to recognize an emergency and when to call 911.

ID/important documents. Several important documents are used to establish identity so we can live independently. These documents are needed to do things such as apply to a college/job training program, open a bank account, get a credit card or apply for a job.

These include:

  • A certified copy of their birth certificate
  • Social Security card
  • Driver’s license or state picture identification
  • Green card or immigration documents, if applicable (Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, undocumented immigrants may also be able to get a driver’s license or general ID.)

It’s also a good idea to keep copies of medical/immunization records and school transcripts. Keep in mind that personal documents can be used to steal your identity—so be sure to keep them in a safe place.