When You Have One “Last” Summer to Prepare Your Teen

a wooden walkway to the beach

We all make note of our children’s “firsts:” their first smile, first tooth, first step, first day of kindergarten. Especially with my youngest, as my kids moved on to big milestones (moving from elementary to middle school, for example) I started noting the lasts, with more than a little melancholy. With the youngest, these lasts were also lasts for me. Our last day at our local elementary school marked more than a decade of my volunteering at a place I had grown to love. It was a place where I made friends, some for a short time, others I expect to remain close to into old age. From here, time swiftly accelerated. Before I knew it, the last day of high school was upon us.

The summer before starting college is a busy one for most teens. Many have part time jobs. All are looking at a lengthy separation from friends as they split up and go separate ways. There has been much conversation lately about the skills that teens need to move away from parents and debate about where this knowledge should come from. There is also evidence that parents are unaware their teens lack these skills until they get a panicked call from college.

Today’s world is busy, so in many cases, we don’t teach by example as much as our parents did.  In many cases, it’s simply not possible. Our teens are busy. In many cases, much more so than we were as teens, so they don’t see us taking care of everyday tasks. Not only do they not know how to do certain things, they aren’t even aware these things need doing.

Snail Mail (Does Anybody Do This Anymore?)

When’s the last time you mailed a letter? Today, people most often communicate via email, text, and social media. While some parents insist on handwritten thank you notes, how many insist that their children also address, stamp and mail them? While I corresponded regularly with several people when I was growing up, my own children rarely did so. I didn’t realize I had missed teaching an important skill until I got a call from college, asking how to address mail and how many stamps to put on the envelope (I did make sure that stamps were in a box that went to college.) I realized I wasn’t the only one when another of my children received a thoughtful care package from a high school classmate that arrived postage due — it was sent with only a single first class stamp.


I had my first checking account at sixteen. By the time I went to college, I was a pro at reconciling my account each month and understood why it was so important to make sure to record each ATM withdrawal. Since many banks today won’t open an account for anyone under 18, my children didn’t have checking accounts until shortly before leaving for college. Since the penalties are high for making errors, I made sure to go over how to record transactions and the importance of keeping track of your money. Having a balance instantly available online is helpful to a degree, but will not show any checks that have not yet cleared.

Laundry and Cooking

While many teens are already responsible for basic life skills: laundry, cooking, shopping (for food and necessities), others seem to think these things just happen. Knowing things like how much detergent to use, what temperature to choose and when and how to use fabric softener will avoid the panicked phone calls at midnight when their whites are pink or blue. Though they may not appreciate it now, teaching your teen that the popcorn setting on a microwave can’t be trusted, their dorm mates will. (No one wants to be chased outside by a fire alarm on a cold dark night.)


While you don’t think about it until you need it, accessing healthcare is a necessity. Perhaps your teen has relied on you to make appointments and remind them to actually go. They may not remember the date of their last physical or know what vaccines they have had.  It is important that teens know how to make appointments and the importance of then keeping them (many doctors charge for no shows). Those who have not made appointments before may not realize it may be weeks before they can see a doctor and that doctors can run late, making the total time needed for an appointment unpredictable.

In most cases, teens are still covered under the family health insurance plan and parents are considered financially responsible. Your teen should have some basic awareness of their health coverage in case a doctor orders additional tests or prescribes medication. Not knowing these things can result in unexpected (and often expensive) medical bills. Some doctors require payment at the time of a visit; your teen should be prepared for this possibility.

Of course not all illnesses require a doctor’s visit. Over-the-counter medicines can treat many common ailments, but before taking them, they should know what each is for, the appropriate dosage and possible dangerous interactions (for example when combining medicines or OTCs with alcohol). Remind your teen that adequate rest and fluid intake shortens the duration of many illnesses and the BRAT diet makes recovering from a stomach bug easier.

The “Talks”

No conversation about preparing your teen for college would be complete without mentioning “The Talks.” Alcohol, drugs and sex are tough topics to talk about with your children, but it’s better they get straight information directly from you. They need the facts. They need to understand any potential consequences. They need to know your thoughts on these topics.  If you can open a dialogue early, they will likely come to you if they run into a problem (for them or someone they care about.)

Ideally you have sprinkled doses of independence throughout childhood that will provide your teen with the confidence that they can solve any problem they encounter. You can help them make more connections along the way by reminding them of how they handled similar tricky situations in the past. But no matter how well you think they’re prepared, don’t be surprised when you get a phone call with a “how to” question that makes you shake your head. Remember, just as people reassured us that our kids wouldn’t go to elementary school in diapers, they will master these adulting skills – eventually.


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