Life After High School Graduation: 7 Ways to Set Your Child Up for Success in the “Real World”

It happens at the end of every summer to millions of families around the world. And it’s not a surprise–families spend a year, sometimes more, preparing for this moment. So, it should be pretty painless when the time comes to send your child off to college or the workforce after high school graduation, right?

No.

Not even close.

While I can’t speak from experience at the moment, in just over a year I will be able to as my son is set to graduate high school in 2023. And my wife and I are already a little bit heartbroken. Not only because we’ll miss his presence around the house–his (intentionally) terrible jokes, his contagious laugh, his references to memes and video games we know nothing about, our Star Wars bond, his through-and-through kindness for others. (I’m getting a bit emotional just writing this–and we still have a year left with him at home!)

No, it’s not merely the idea of him being away from home that has my wife and I so anxious about life after his graduation–we’re genuinely terrified for him because, while he’s an incredibly intelligent kid, he lacks the many of the, umm, “real-life skills” he’s going to need to make it outside of his comfort zone (aka, our house).

He’s not alone, however…far from it. And that’s the purpose of this article–to help parents and caregivers prepare your woefully unprepared child for life after graduation, whether that involves college, moving out and finding a job, traveling, or wherever your fully grown baby’s path leads them. With that in mind, here are some valuable life skills that can set your child up for success in the real world.

1a. Open a credit card for them/1b. Explain the concept of finances and bills. Many, many young adults (and not-so-young adults, for that matter) look at credit cards as an unlimited source of cash, like free money. And, in a way, it is. Until it’s not–you know, when the monthly bill needs to be paid. But every young adult should have a credit card for emergencies, to pay recurring bills like utilities or internet service, and things of that nature. If they have a job and can pay the bill every month (or you’re willing to do so for them), then they’re obviously free to use the credit card for whatever they need. But that’s where the concept of finances comes in.

Young men and women need to understand the responsibilities of having their own money and the means to spend it. It sounds so simple because as adults we do this daily, but our kids likely don’t know how to pay a bill online, have no idea what interest rates are, remain entirely unaware of the consequences of not paying their bills or paying late, what paycheck deductions are, and so on.

Before they’re ready to leave the house, sit them down a few times and show them how to apply for a credit card online, how to open a checking account, how to balance a checkbook (online, anyway), how to use an expenses app or program, and how to pay a bill. Equipping them with even a basic sense of money and all the responsibilities involved with it will go a long way toward easing their anxiety–and yours–when it comes to finances.

2. Show them how to keep a budget. A what? That’s probably the response you’ll get when you broach the subject. But, similar to understanding money and finances, establishing a budget can help them manage their finances in a responsible way. If your child is going away to college, help them figure out how much money they need to allocate each month for necessities such as food, utilities (if not included in campus living expenses), books, car insurance, gas, other vehicle-related expenses, and also some spending cash for fun (it is college, after all!).

If your child plans on getting a job after high school, they’ll need to budget for most of the above, plus rent/mortgage, renters/homeowners insurance, possibly health insurance, cell phone service, TV/internet service, household necessities, etc.

Helping them create–and stick to–a budget ahead of time can help your child avoid financial issues that can follow them for years and ultimately impact major buying decisions down the road.

3. Teach them how to cook. Or at least make something resembling a meal. This one scares me the most. I mean, I remember how and what I ate when I was in college–and I was much more savvy with this type of thing than my son is now. So it’s easy for us to envision him eating a bowl of Life cereal with a side of pickles for dinner. Aside from the obvious gross-out factor, it’s probably not the healthiest of choices either. If your child is going away to school and you’re able to provide a meal plan, that certainly helps–especially since many freshmen reside in accommodations that don’t provide much in the way of kitchens or appliances. If that’s not feasible, point them toward microwaveable meals (Chef Boyardee–my college savior) and frozen foods, or teach them the basics on how to cook.

We’re not talking bacon-wrapped filet mignon or risotto here–think more along the lines of Kraft macaroni and cheese, eggs, hamburgers, hot dogs, tuna, tacos, pasta, stir fry, salads, even some rudimentary chicken dishes. While some of these delicacies may cause some brow-furrowing among nutritionists and dieticians, they’re not ALL terrible for you and are better than the alternative–Chick-fil-A three times a day, seven days a week (though your child may argue that point).

4. Make them do their own laundry. Start now, and by the time they’re out the door, they’ll be laundry masters. I mean, it’s really not that complicated, right? Separate by color, look at the tags to make sure everything is machine-washable, add detergent and some of those fun scent pellets (they’re probably a total waste, but they smell so good), toss the clothes in, push a few buttons, and wait.

It is pretty much that simple, right? Sure, there are lessons to be learned–never mix red with the whites, don’t wash delicates on a regular cycle, add fabric softener at the right time if you’re into that sort of thing, etc. But laundry is genuinely a straightforward endeavor–assuming there’s easy access to a washing machine and a dryer, which isn’t always the case in a dorm or apartment complex.

You know the drill with drying–some items need to be dried on low or air only, the lint trap should always be cleared out since that is a legit fire and safety hazard, dryer sheets are our friends, etc. All that’s left is to fold–but we all know that these clothes are going straight from the laundry basket to a drawer, stuffed and wrinkled. Can’t win ‘em all.

5. Show them how to clean. Please. For your child’s sake and that of everyone they invite to their dorm, apartment, or home. When I was in college, I tried to keep things as clean as I could, only to discover that I was more or less living in filth. Wiping a toilet with a paper towel once a month does not a clean bathroom make. No, a clean bathroom requires some type of liquid cleanser, a sponge, maybe some bleach–and they all need to be used more than once a season. I give my mom credit for teaching me how to properly clean a room at the right age. I also apologize to my mom for not utilizing those skills once I left the house. The lesson here is, you may equip your child with all they need to know about cleaning–but once they leave, all bets are off.

That said, it’s still worth showing them how to thoroughly clean a sink, toilet, shower, countertop, mirror, window, and any other surface that is susceptible to becoming a petri dish for bacteria and germs between cleanings. I’ll also lump dishes into this category–because nothing is more disgusting than picking up a utensil and discovering someone else’s food dirt on it. Lessons on how to wash dishes the right way (and operate a dishwasher) go a long way toward keeping a clean kitchen.

The best you can do is prepare your child–what they do with the knowledge you bestow upon them once they’re gone is out of your hands. But hopefully they at least tidy things up when you go for a visit.

6. Schedules are critical. They need to learn how to operate on one. Let’s face it–kids get into a pretty regular routine throughout high school. Set the alarm, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, catch the bus, go to school, possibly stay late for an activity, come home, do homework, talk to/hang out with friends, eat dinner, have some leisure time, go to bed, repeat. Post-high school–all that is out the window.

Now our kids are responsible for getting themselves out of bed after hitting snooze four times so they make it to class on time. They need to plan out their day and know where they need to be after each class, when to squeeze in a meal, when to study, when to get to work. They need to factor in commute times, whether it’s by foot, bike, or car. Mom and Dad are not there to tap them on the shoulder and remind them of what’s next anymore, and this is how our kids grow to become independent adults. Sometimes they’ll stumble and miss a class, skip a meal, or show up to work late–but they learn from it and know how to better budget their time as a result.

Even if we can’t necessarily plot out the specifics of each day for our kids, we can certainly emphasize the importance of time management and what it means–just like money needs to be budgeted, the hours of each day require management as well. And once they have that skill down, life becomes much, much simpler. Or at least more organized.

7. Provide them with some job skills. Or at least the skills required to land a job. If they haven’t yet been a part of the workforce, it’s imperative that our kids learn how to a) create a resume, b) set up a professional networking page (LinkedIn, for example), and c) handle themselves in a job interview.

Even if your child is attending college, odds are a part-time job will be in their future, so they’ll also need to know how to create an attractive resume, market themselves, and seal the deal in an interview. The resume is easy enough–there are plenty of programs out there that provide nice resume templates (Google Docs comes to mind), and you can work with your child on how to fill it out. It’s not always as simple as typing a list of accomplishments or experiences–there are certain ways to word things that will sound extra-attractive to a prospective employer. Same with networking sites like LinkedIn–your child is likely pretty tech savvy and fluent in social media, so setting up a LinkedIn profile won’t be too much of a stretch for them.

Once they’ve landed an interview, it’s a good idea to prep them for what to expect. Of course, every interview is different and you never know when an interviewer might pull out the old “If you were a tree, which would you be…and why?” question. But instilling some good interview habits such as offering a firm handshake, looking the interviewer in the eye, being honest, and doing some investigative work on what the company is all about will definitely help their odds of getting a job offer.

Graduation is certainly a bittersweet experience. As Shiloh Kelly, Bridgeway Academy’s Chief Marketing Officer, so aptly explained: “As a parent of a graduating senior, you’re probably bursting with pride and overwhelmed at the same time, looking at your child who is no longer a child but an adult going out into the real world. They stand alone during graduation even though you were with them every step of the way.” This probably sums up the feelings of every parent of a graduating senior–proud, anxious, nervous, excited. Most parents probably run through the entire spectrum of emotions.

At the end of the day though, we have to let go–even just a little bit.

We as parents need to let our grown children experience life outside of their home, in the real world. We have to allow them to succeed–and fail–on their own terms so they learn from their triumphs as well as their mistakes. We have to let them live their lives–after all, that’s why we raised them, right? To grow up and become good, independent human beings. We have to let go so they can experience their life.

Now, all that said, it’s important to keep in mind a few important things–we’re still their parents and we’ll always be there for them. No matter what. And it’s SO MUCH EASIER to be there today than ever before–we’re literally a video chat away from seeing them (not a long-distance phone call–ask your parents, kids). So, if they have a problem or a question or can’t figure out which button to press on the washing machine, all they have to do is point the phone and we can help them out. And, if your child is away at school or living elsewhere while working or in the military, a good, old-fashioned care package is always a winner–you can send along some essentials and goodies to show your child you’re still thinking about them without calling or texting every three minutes.

But by teaching them essential life skills and preparing them for life away from home, everyone can feel better about this exciting yet emotionally exhausting transition from childhood to adulthood. And it’s ok to experience the tug-of-war of emotions as you bounce from pride to sadness. You’ve got this. We’ve got this. They’ve got this. Because we as parents have done everything we can to prepare them for this moment.

If you’ve said goodbye to high school graduates and want to share your experience as well as some advice, please do so in the comments below!

David Engle

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