Earlier in the school year, a high school in Kentucky offered an “adulting” seminar to its senior class. During the seminar, students participated in sessions on a variety of topics, including dorm room cooking, healthy relationships, and personal finance. In addition to receiving praise from many students and parents, the seminar was covered by several local and national media outlets.
Perhaps all the positive feedback will lead other high schools to follow suit. Before you scoff at this idea, let’s consider what teenagers do and do not already know how to do. In helping students figure out what they’re looking for in a college, I have them take a survey that identifies their preferences for different aspects of the college experience. One of the categories in the survey is “independence,” which “focus[es] on your willingness to make your own plans, follow your instincts, and act independently of others.”
As I explain to my students, if you have a low score in this category, you may be more successful at a college that offers more structure, guidance, and support. If you have a high score, it probably is not as important that you attend a college with these features.
When I talk with students about their independence score, I ask them several questions:
- Do they know how to do laundry?
- Do they know how to cook?
- Do they schedule appointments (i.e, doctor, dentist, haircut) for themselves or does a parent do this for them?
Most of my students know how to do laundry, which is more than I could say for myself at that age. The summer before I left for college, my mom decided it was time to teach me that basic life skill. I would estimate that about half of my students can cook, but very few schedule their own appointments. Again, while this is something I don’t think I did for myself in high school, it’s an important skill to learn before going to college. Although many appointments can be made online, it’s also good to know how to do this on the phone (and I mean calling, not texting).
Basic budgeting and understanding how to use a bank account and credit card are other important skills. At the beginning of my freshman year, a girl on my floor (who turned out to be one of my best friends) needed to buy books for her classes. Her new credit card hadn’t yet arrived, so she brought her checkbook. She went to the bookstore with a few other people on our floor, and when it came time to pay, she asked one of them if she needed to sign the check. People were so amused by her question that they retold this story for weeks. This is how I heard about it, since I wasn’t at the bookstore when it happened. It was so memorable that 16 years later, I mentioned it in my speech at my friend’s wedding!
Now in my late 30’s, I still can’t claim to have mastered every aspect of adulting. For example, I’ve never done my own taxes, and if you asked me if I know how to change a tire, I would say, “That’s what I have roadside assistance and a cell phone for.”
Many of these skills are taught in home economics and shop classes (now more commonly called family and consumer sciences, or FCS), but fewer students take those electives than they used to. According to NPR, “In 2012 there were only 3.5 million students enrolled in FCS secondary programs, a decrease of 38 percent over a decade.”
In light of this, the idea of high schools teaching classes or holding seminars on adulting doesn’t seem so absurd. If nothing else, such instruction might save students the embarrassment of having to ask a new friend how to perform a simple task that people will still be laughing about years later.
Summer is a great time to work on adulting, especially if you’ll be heading to college in the fall. For more on the life skills you should learn before college, see this blog post.