By Mary Sauer
Before your child blows out their candles, you should really make sure they have a handle on these skills: Turning 13 is a major milestone. For many kids, it feels like one big step toward adulthood. Of course, teenagers don’t just take on the responsibilities of growing older on their own because they’ve turned a page on a calendar. Parents play a big role in guiding their kids by equipping them with the skills they need to take care of themselves and contribute to society.
Here are seven skills your kid needs before they cross over into their life as a teen.
1. Money Matters
By the time their thirteenth birthday approaches, young people should understand some basics about money and how to manage the money they earn. These skills are best taught through modeling and practice.
As their parent, you can model financial responsibility by talking openly with your kids about the decisions you make, from how you earn money to how you spend and save it once you have it.
Of course, hands-on practice is going to provide the most effective learning for middle school–aged children, so letting them earn some cash by providing an allowance or offering extra tasks to them at home is a great way to start teaching them lessons on money management.
At this age, kids need to have a practical understanding that money is not limitless, Anton Simunovic, founder of ThreeJars.com, told Money. To teach this skill, parents should really avoid bailing their kids out when their money runs out, especially since the consequences are pretty low risk at this age.
A 13-year-old should also understand and practice habits like spending and giving. As soon as your kid is able to earn money, they should be expected to save a portion and set aside a portion to practice charitable giving.
2. Scheduling Solutions
Up until this point, there is a good chance you’ve been helping your child get up and out the door for school and extracurricular activities. Before they hit their teenage years, shift this responsibility onto their shoulders.
Kids this age are more than capable of getting out of bed on time and getting ready for school without assistance or reminders. So set them up for success by giving them an alarm and talking through their morning routine once or twice. Then back off and let them figure it out.
Here’s the most important, and most difficult, aspect of teaching young teens to manage their own time—let them experience the consequences of their own actions if they choose not to get up and out the door in the morning.
This might mean they have to face a frustrated teacher or discipline from a coach who expects them to be at practice by a certain time. And that’s okay. Sometimes consequences that come from outside the family leave the most lasting impression.
“There are days [a child] will come racing out with only a few minutes to spare before they have to be out the door,” parenting expert Amy Carney told Red Tricycle. “The snooze button no longer feels luxurious when it’s caused you to miss breakfast.”
3. Courteous Communication
If your new teen wishes to be treated like an adult—and most do—they need to communicate with other adults with respect and clarity. For most parents, teaching respect to teens they perceive as moody and standoffish may feel impossible, but the truth is that teaching respect is best accomplished by modeling respect toward your teen.
Teenagers are wired to demand independence, which means they are less likely to comply with command-based parenting practices, according Carl E. Pickhardt, PhD, writing for Psychology Today. Parents must respect this desire for autonomy if they want their children to move toward independence and learn to communicate like adults.
For some families, this might mean giving space for teens to withhold information or being willing to enter into more discussion about family rules instead of simply expecting obedience without question. When a teen feels their personal boundaries are being honored, they are more likely to give respect back to their parents.
Of course not all teens struggle with respect. For some it is a lack of confidence that keeps them from engaging well with adults. In this case, parents should be careful to intervene if they notice their child is using technology as a tactic for isolating from social situations, Pickhardt wrote.
Instead, make sure your teen understands that you are on their side and want to help them find clubs, sports, or organizations that are a good fit for their personality and interests. It may take time, but social activities your teen enjoys are likely to be the best opportunity for practicing social interactions, according to VeryWell.
4. Body Basics
Those early teen years are full of changes for young people, and these changes are going to require your child to learn new self-care skills. Most teens want to care for themselves but feel intimidated by the task or are too embarrassed to ask their parents for help.
Bridge this sometimes awkward topic and offer to teach your teen what they need to know about taking care of themselves. For both sexes, this will mean keeping themselves clean, dealing with body odor, and safely grooming any newly growing hair.
Female teens may need instruction on buying undergarments for their changing bodies and taking care of themselves during their monthly cycle.
Talking about body-care basics is a great opportunity to further discuss sexuality. Long before your child has reached their teens, they should understand that they are expected to engage respectfully with romantic interests, and they should understand the consequences of engaging in risky sexual behaviors at this age.
5. Housekeeping Habits
Your teen is a member of your household, and it is perfectly acceptable to expect them to do their part around the home. Before the age of 13, your child should know how to do their own laundry, pick up after themselves, and clean the kitchen.
Middle school is also a great time to start teaching them how to cook basic meals for themselves and other members of the family. Along with cooking meals, teens should be expected to pack their own school lunches or budget to pay for lunch from the money they are given as allowance.
In many cases, parents put off teaching their children housekeeping habits simply because it feels easier to do it for them. In this case, it is essential to ask yourself what your goals for your child really are, says Amy Carney.
If your answer is that you want to raise them to be independent adults, then now is the time to start teaching them those skills. If you don’t, you just might find yourself with a high school senior who is still asking you to do their laundry and pack their lunch.
6. Academic Achievements
Most parents place a high priority on helping their teens reach their full potential, but by micromanaging your teen’s academics, you do more harm than good. Parents should find a balance, encouraging their teen and supporting them without doing their work for them or rescuing them from academic failure, according to U.S. News.
Of course, struggling students may need more help, but your average student should be able to meet deadlines without parent intervention, keep up with homework, and show up to class on time.
If your young teen is struggling with their academics, U.S. News suggests you don’t take over for them, but do have a heart-to-heart involving their counselor or teachers to find out what your child needs for academic success.
7. Navigation Necessities
New teens may not be ready to drive yet, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be familiar with navigating the places they go most frequently.
Whether they’re catching a ride with another parent or walking to and from school, being able get themselves where they need to go will bring them one step closer to independence.
In fact, it isn’t a bad idea to teach your teen how to navigate using a compass, map, or GPS.
According to Idaho State University, these skills are invaluable and have practical applications beyond getting to and from school—such as avoiding getting lost or enjoying the outdoors without fear.
It isn’t uncommon for parents to put off teaching their young teens independence simply because it feels easier to manage their lives. In some cases, parents feel fearful about the consequences their child could experience when they manage their life themselves.
The truth is, the consequences of the mistakes your teen might make now are far less risky than releasing them into adulthood without the skills they need to care for themselves, engage in adult relationships, or manage their time and money.