11 Life Skills Every Teen Should Have By Age 18
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11 Life Skills Every Teen Should Have By Age 18

In recent years, a focus on nitty-gritty technical skills has grown. The benefits of that emphasis may have been welcomed by some, but there are certainly limitations for teens who were born in the world of computers, smartphones, and an increasing social media presence.

To make connections, launch a career, and inspire change, teens need key abilities that allow them to rise above the noise and find common ground. Here are 11 of these skills teens can work on mastering before they are 18:

1. Flexibility to Handle Change

Child development experts often mention kids’ ability to handle transitions as an important factor in healthy growth. In the teen years, that may seem like a small matter with all the higher expectations.

With the world seeming to change every day, teens need to be able to quickly alter how they do things. When Forbes queried business experts about desirable employee traits, aspects like flexibility and adaptability were listed as among the most desirable.

Learning to be flexible often happens when the unexpected arises. Since that is unpredictable, parents and teens themselves can find other ways to foster this skill. This can include putting teens in unfamiliar settings through travel programs and other service and educational opportunities.

2. Bravery to Use Your Voice

Most teens are masters at texting, but the decrease in verbal communication and longer-form writing can make it more daunting for teens to share their ideas. Young people can work on this by being encouraged to converse about complicated topics at home, joining debate teams and other engaging in-person programs, getting involved in leadership positions in school and the community, and interacting with people of different ages and backgrounds.

Rustic students gather for a discussion during their Hawaii Service program.

3. Listening Skills to Understand Diverse Viewpoints

As communities become more diverse, it’s of increasing importance to be able to communicate with people with different views and points of reference. The Deliberative Polling process founded by Stanford University Professor James Fishkin is one organized way to help people come together to discuss topics and understand one another.

Another way is for teens to spend time in communities that are different from their own. This may be possible through local volunteer opportunities and immersive travel programs for teens who want to experience a different culture.

Rustic students interact with local villagers during the Floating Village Service Expedition in Cambodia.

4. Empathy to Help Others

It’s hoped that teens naturally have the desire to help others, but exposing young people to the experiences of others in need can help foster empathy. It’s also helpful to work with organizations that have the know-how on ways to provide assistance. Again that can happen locally or through international service programs, where teens can learn about the needs of communities and see how problems can be eased.

Sydney Roach plays with children during her service trip to the Dominican Republic.

5. Grit to Tackle Challenges

Teens who have grit can better handle life’s inevitable challenges. Seeing others find their way through challenging circumstances can help with this. Students who travel frequently mention this when they share their stories. Just one of these many stories was shared by Megan Kahrs, who made five trips with Rustic Pathways. She pointed out how much more she appreciated education after visiting a village in Tanzania:

“Many of the school kids would spend up to 5 hours walking, round trip, to get to school and back home and didn’t have access to a shower or clean clothes. That was their daily routine and it quickly became ours too. From this, I learned so much that made me respect their culture. Education was so important to the families of Hayedesh that they would send their young, unsupervised children walking for hours in the dark, on dirt roads just to get to school and learn.”

Photo: Megan Kahrs

6. Independent Thinking to Be a Leader

There often is a strong desire to follow the crowd in the teen years and beyond. That tendency can hinder decision-making down the line. Teens can develop independent thinking by exposing themselves to a variety of information before coming to conclusions. It’s helpful to be reminded that the internet and social media sites feed users information based on algorithms. Therefore, to get a wider scope of information to independently make decisions, you may have to search a little longer and work a little harder.

7. Curiosity to Foster Growth

Curiosity is natural in many children when they ask “why” at a young age. That can wane over time, so it’s worthwhile to keep recognizing learning opportunities. There are so many ways to do this. One of the easiest is to continually encourage the pursuit of knowledge. So, if a teen suddenly is wondering why their dog is acting a certain way or the sky is yellow, they can be encouraged to look it up, watch a documentary, or make more observations to find life’s patterns.

They also can, of course, get out and experience life to its fullest. Trying new things helps keep learning skills fresh, and visiting new places keeps curiosity alive.

Hayes Benenson enjoys climbing in Peru during the 2021 Andes to Amazon program.

8. “Adulting” Skills to Handle the Day to Day

It’s amazing to realize how many things adults don’t remember learning that kids and teens have to master. Taking care of detailed “adulting” tasks not only is important for day-to-day functioning, but it also helps teens learn to plan and organize. So before age 18, teens should learn many tasks, including doing their laundry, cooking some foods, navigating on roadways and paths, handling money, and even registering to vote.

9. Planning Skills to Achieve Goals

The ability to make plans has seemed to decline with the smartphone. With texting and Snapchat come last minute decisions about where to go and what to do. Last minute cancellations also seem more common.

Therefore, the art of making plans may be lost. Putting a teen in charge of making plans for a family event later in the week may help. A bigger picture option is to have a teen plan how they are going to take part in a spring break or summer program they may want to do months later. The teen may be tasked with the steps involved, ranging from fundraising to electronic paperwork.

10. Initiative to Find a Path

Finding initiative and drive is easier when we are working on something that holds our interest. So the first step may be discovering what those interests are. This can come from trying new things and taking time to explore ideas. It is wonderful to be committed to an activity like a sport, but every now and then, it is worthwhile to try something different to see what else may motivate young people and help them find a path to future goals and plans.

11. Relaxation and Reflection to Treasure Life

Rustic students take a break to relax during their Off the Map program in Alaska. Photo: Tristan Grosham

Sometimes it seems the list of things to do never ends. Because of that, the ability to relax and reflect may be harder than it seems. There are always people who can’t stop their minds from racing. Getting out in nature is certainly one way to get out of the rat race. Other options include journal writing, drawing, running (if you actually can relax while doing it!), hanging out with close friends and listening to music.

Working on these 11 traits will give teens a big hand up as they move into adulthood. If you’d like more guidance and advice, here are 21 life lessons every teenager should know:
To see how other teens have made progress in these areas through travel programs, see the seven ways that Rustic Pathways’ alumni say their trips have helped them and view the learning outcomes of these programs. To reserve a limited spot for travel next year, view our current program page for more information.


About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer