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Life Skills

Air Date: 06/14/10 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net.A colleague sent me an article recently about teachers and how they're sometimes "too compassionate." The gist of the article is that teachers who, after all, went into teaching to be helpful to children sometimes have a hard time watching students struggle with a difficult concept or assignment and may rush into help. Sometimes kids learn more from the struggle than they do from having the correct answer. Actually, a number of studies have noted the lack of critical thinking and life skills in young adults these days. These studies show that young adults who have completed college often lack critical thinking skills and can't decipher credit card offers, among other things, or manage other important details of 21st-century life. By the way, the study reported that even though college kids are deficient in skills, they still do better than the average American adult. I can elaborate. I occasionally see college students in my therapy practice. Among the topics we have spent therapy time on are learning to check the details of a cell phone contract, comparative shopping for salad ingredients, understanding the lease for an apartment, and creating a simple budget, including balancing a checking account. These issues usually come up because they have created conflict between a student and her family or room-mates but it makes me wonder how many other young adults are out there lacking skills most successful adults take for granted. I spend a significant amount of time teaching workshops for parents, teachers, and professionals who work with young people. And high on my list of topics is the issue of skills: life skills, skills that build character, relationship skills. Many intelligent, committed and caring adults are rather surprised to realize that kids don't learn skills by osmosis. Skills must be actively taught. Skills are essential for getting through life; in fact, we know that skills are what build self-esteem and competency in young people not praise, love, or cool clothing and toys. Unless you want your child to live in your back bedroom for the next several decades, teaching skills should be high on your list of parenting priorities. Still, I find that many parents simply haven't thought much about it. Why not?Well, there are at least two reasons that come immediately to mind. One is expediency. Parents these days are busy, busy people. Moms and dads alike work, have homes to manage, and more everyday tasks and chores than they can easily manage. Parents routinely tell me that raising their children is their top priority but teaching kids to do things takes time, energy, and a great deal of patience. Most parents just find it easier to do it themselves. Unfortunately, when you do everything for your kids (from cleaning their rooms to keeping track of their homework to lugging around their sports equipment), children learn to depend on you. They also may decide that you don't believe they can do these tasks for themselves. When the day comes that you expect your offspring to be responsible, organized, and reliable, they may tell you "I can't" or "I don't want to." The second reason parents don't teach skills has a lot to do with love and guilt. Parents often believe love means doing everything for kids, giving them what they want, and making sure they never experience a moment of frustration or defeat. Unfortunately, guilt rarely inspires effective long-range parenting. Here's the bottom line: Children have both wants and needs. Your job as a parent is to supply their genuine needs, which usually involve things like shelter, food, medical care, love and connection, and yes, skills. Wants, which include stuff like iPods, cell phones, activities, brand-name clothing, or other gadgets and doo-dads, are optional. In fact, when children, teens, and young adults have adequate life, character, and relationship skills, they usually find ways to get many of the things they want in positive, helpful ways. Consider making a plan to include skills training in your everyday family life. By the time your child leaves home, he should know how to manage money, run a load of laundry, maintain an automobile, shop for and prepare several simple, nutritious meals, and evaluate important documents. He should understand that everything he hears on television, reads in the paper, or sees on the Internet may not be true. He should have adequate problem-solving skills and be able to make age-appropriate decisions for himself. Your kids may be a bit resistant especially if you've trained them to expect you to do the work. But it's never too late to begin. Be sure you take time to give your child the skills he needs to live a successful life. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.