In 2001, I graduated from Eastmoor Academy High School in Columbus, Ohio as the sole valedictorian of my high school class. At the time, I thought I knew it all. I had taken intense AP courses and soaked up all of the knowledge my teachers gave me. I was ready to tackle the real world… or so I thought. Students learn a lot in high school. They discover how to solve complex equations, critically analyze classic novels, and understand the basics of biology. However, while subjects such as algebra and physics are important, many students would benefit from a high school curriculum with more of a real-world application. Here are some of the things I wish I’d learned in high school:
Basic Study Skills
In high school, students often receive review sheets for major exams and are told what information to look over in the textbook, but few take the time to really learn how to study. In college, study skills become a must. Students are expected to take in, process, and retain more information than ever before. The same is true if they apply for a job or join the military and must pass certification exams. Students who don’t have strong study skills are less likely to perform as well on those exams.
Many high school students find themselves flitting from one activity to another while adults help them keep everything organized. If they miss a homework assignment or need an extra day to complete an assignment, it’s not that big of a deal. However, when they get a job or start to juggle multiple courses in college, it becomes a bigger deal. High school teachers and parents can help teach good time management skills to high school students and hold them responsible for failing to manage their time effectively.This also includes teaching students about prioritizing activities and making difficult choices about what is most important.
How to Practice Self-Care
Typically what happens in high school is students run themselves ragged until they finally burn out. Then they have a bit of an emotional breakdown, take a couple days off, and start the cycle again. High school is a great time to start teaching students about self-care. Teachers and parents can encourage students to listen to their bodies to avoid burnout, take regular time to relax, and learn how to manage stress in healthy ways. Many adults could stand to learn that lesson too.
How to Navigate the Healthcare System
Admittedly, many adults still have problems with this one. In high school, parents still often find healthcare providers and make appointments for their children. While that’s okay, the high school years are a good time to talk to teens about the healthcare process, explain to them why you chose a particular doctor, and even let them call and make an appointment for themselves every now and then. Let them in on the process involved with paying for doctor visits too, otherwise co-pays and deductibles may catch them by surprise one day.
This has become less of a problem with new programs that have been put into place, but many of these programs focus on eliminating foods from teens’ diets instead of teaching them healthy habits such as eating foods in moderation and exercising regularly. The best way to teach teens healthy habits is to model healthy habits. Teach them that it’s okay to indulge every now and then, but that pizza and soda every day is not ideal.
How to Prepare a Meal
Of course, if you want teens to develop healthy habits, they need to learn some of the basics of cooking. They may not have the skills to become a Chopped Champion, but they should learn how to make a simple salad or pasta dish and use a variety of kitchen utensils and appliances. Unfortunately, many high schools have taken out their home economics programs, but parents can teach these skills at home or teachers may be able to teach them through an after-school club.
Simple Household Tasks
How many high school students does it take to change a light bulb? A task that simple may not sound like a big deal, but high school students should get the opportunity to purchase a light bulb and change it. They should also learn other tasks, such as how to hang a picture, how to turn off the electric breakers, or how to unclog a drain.
Basic Car Maintenance
Oil changes can be expensive. As part of a driver’s ed course, teens should learn how to complete a basic oil change and how to change a tire. Often they watch someone else do it, but that’s not enough. They need to get under the car and get dirty to really learn how to do it.
How to Buy a Car
Buying a car is a big decision. Often teens are focused on getting the latest model or the coolest elements without spending much time thinking about the cost. Math class is a great place to teach teens about the basics of buying a car, such as depreciation costs, interest on a loan, and even the cost of gas based on a car’s standard MPG.
Get a Credit Card (and use it wisely)
The moment students turn 18, maybe even before, they’ll start receiving credit card offers in the mail or find themselves hounded by individuals asking them to sign up for a credit card. Both teachers and parents should take time to talk to students about the risks and benefits of using credit cards. Credit cards aren’t free money. If the bills aren’t paid, collectors have the ability to add even more unwanted stress to their lives.
The Basics of Saving and Investing
Saving for retirement or even a rainy day isn’t at the top of the average teen’s list, but it should be. Some high schools offer classes where teens invest in a virtual stock market, but the investing should go beyond that. Teach teens about mutual funds, 401ks, and the benefits of just having some money put away for emergencies. Rather than blowing any extra money they have, they can learn how to use that money to benefit them in the future.
How to Get through College without Student Loans
Many students want to go to college, but they can’t afford to do it. High schools often help students apply for scholarships to cover part of the cost and assume federal aid and loans will cover the rest. Schools should take time to talk to students about the importance of choosing a college they can afford, working while in college, or even delaying college (if they’re not sure what they want to major in) to help cut down on the cost. A student may have her heart set on an Ivy League school when her budget says she can only afford the state university. In many cases, both will provide a quality education.
Setting and Achieving Realistic Goals
Schools encourage teens to set goals for the future, but they often stop there. Instead of just telling teens they can be anything they want to be and encouraging them to set their sights high, schools should encourage them to set realistic goals, and then help teens develop plans to reach their goals.
How to Handle Failure and Rejection
As adults, we often want to shield our children from failure and rejection, but the fact is, they’re a part of life. High school is a great place to let students experience a bit of failure and rejection in a controlled environment and teach them how to develop resilience so they can bounce back and keep moving forward.
Whether you’re buying a car, discussing the salary for a new job, or making a big decision for a company, negotiation skills are important. Negotiating doesn’t simply involve making a demand and insisting that everyone accepts it. It involves looking at both sides and coming up with a rational solution. Teachers can help students develop negotiation skills by allowing for some negotiating in the classroom, be it determining the consequences of a rule violation or choosing a due date for a large project.
How to Find a Job
A lot of career education in high school is focused on helping teens discover what they want to do for the rest of their life, but not so much on finding a job to just make ends meet. Teens should be taught where to look for jobs, how to apply for jobs, how to create a resume, and how to interview for a job, even if it’s just at a local fast food restaurant or big box store. They also should be taught how to spot a scam. If a job requires little work and promises thousands of dollars a month right out of high school, it’s probably too good to be true.
How to Interact with People Professionally
This includes being courteous and polite when talking with your boss or customers, keeping your emotions in check, refraining from gossip, and presenting yourself in a positive light. It also includes having strong business writing skills and knowing how to express yourself on the phone or in a business e-mail. Remember to pick a professional e-mail address too. email@example.com isn’t going to impress a lot of people when you enter the workforce.
How to Use Social Media Properly
It only takes one inappropriate photo or internet rant to ruin a teen’s reputation or a young adult’s career. Privacy settings give teens a false sense of security on social media. Schools and parents should remind teens and young adults that they never know who can see what they’re doing online. They may think only their friends can see an inappropriate post, but if a friend shares the post or tells someone else about it, it could soon be out there for all the world to see. There are real consequences for improper social media use. Teens need to make sure that when they post online they’re doing so safely and with their future in mind. A half-naked duck lips pose may be cool now, but an employer might not think it’s so great five or ten years down the road.
How to Survive a Boring Job
Most people have held at least one unsatisfying job in their lifetime. Sometimes jobs, especially entry-level jobs, aren’t very exciting. High schools do a great job of getting teens excited about entering the workforce and earning money, but they don’t focus enough on the realities of entering the workforce. Teens need to learn how to put a smile on their face and get the work done, to focus on bigger goals rather than the task at hand, and to stick it out at a job until something better comes along. Having money coming in from a boring job is better than having no money coming in at all.
All About Taxes
It’s hard for the average American to understand taxes, but teens should have a basic understanding of what taxes are. If they make $10/hour, they’re not going to take home $10/hour and they’ll need to adjust for that. High school math class is the perfect place to introduce teens to sales tax, income tax, social security tax, and the other taxes they’ll have to pay in life, as well as how to file their taxes.
How to Open and Manage a Checking Account
Chances are teens and young adults aren’t going to be conducting transactions in cash for the rest of their lives. At some point they’ll need to open a checking account and deposit money into that account. When they do, they’ll need to know about any fees associated with the account, how to check the balance on the account and make sure they account for all of the purchases. They’ll also need to know how to access money in the account and learn not to write checks or try to swipe their debit cards if the money isn’t there.
How to Create a Budget
Financial experts such as Dave Ramsey advocate the value of a monthly budget, and with good reason. A monthly budget helps a person know what is coming in and what is coming out. It also encourages them to live within their means. Teens can start budgeting in high school. Once they see how much they spend a month on coffee, clothes, and fast food, they may start to understand the value of a dollar and start making changes to stretch their budget further.
How to Rent an Apartment and Set Up Utilities
Many teens think they’ll just move out when they turn eighteen, but when they actually look at the cost of an apartment, they realize it’s more expensive than they thought. A good math lesson for teens would be to have them sit down and figure out the average cost of an apartment, furniture, and all related utilities. Teens should also be taught that things like water, electricity, gas, cable, and internet are not free. Someone has to pay for them. Once they learn the cost of living on their own, more teens may be anxious to stay home a little longer or get a few roommates to help offset the cost.
In many restaurants, servers hate when a group of teens or college students are seated in their section because they’re likely to leave a horrible tip. Teens should be taught the concept of tipping and how to calculate a basic tip. Rather than going into a restaurant with $20 and spending the full $20 on the meal. they should be taught to budget the tip into the amount they plan to spend so they don’t stiff the server, the hairdresser, the valet, or anyone else who deserves a tip.
Babies Require More Time and Care Than You Think
Many high schools have students take home the computerized babies that cry throughout the night and are fed and changed with the twist of a key. While these babies help teens get a glimpse of what having a baby is like, they don’t come anywhere close to the reality of what raising a baby is really like. No matter what your individual views on premarital sex are, schools and parents should do more to help teens learn how much time, energy, and money it really takes to raise a baby and encourage them to make wise decisions to avoid getting pregnant before they’re ready for the responsibility.
A Boyfriend/Girlfriend isn’t Everything
If you spend any time around a large group of teenagers, you know how much time they spend focused on young love. Many teens are focused on finding someone to date, getting kissed for the first time, and making sure they impress their significant other. While some couples who meet in high school do go on to get married, most don’t last more than a few months. Rather than putting so much time, energy, and emotion into relationships, teens should be encouraged to invest that same time and energy into a worthy cause. Volunteer. Help other people. Start a business. Make something of yourself. Don’t base your self-worth on your relationship status.
How to Protect Yourself
As teens gain their independence, they start to stay out later at night, broaden their social circle, and take more risks. As they do, they may put themselves into dangerous situations. Knowing basic self-defense skills and having a plan for who to contact in an emergency can help teens when they get into trouble.
It’s Okay if You’re Not Cool
Many teens desire to be part of the cool crowd. They want to fit in, wear the latest fashions, and have tons of friends. To do this, they often sacrifice their own needs and desires. Teachers and parents should encourage teens to do what they love and focus on what they want to do, not to do things because others will think they’re cool. They’ll be much happier in the long run.
Give Yourself Permission to take Risks
What better time to take risks than when you’re a teenager or young adult with little responsibility? Teens should be encouraged to skydive, travel across the country, take that crazy volunteer position halfway around the world, and make spur of the moment decisions. It might be harder to do later.
Life is stressful and comes with its fair share of challenges. It’s easy to become negative and feel like things will never get better. However, you don’t have to let the struggles of life get you down. Teens should be encouraged to choose joy, to look for the bright side in every situation and figure out a way to get ahead rather than being mired down in negativity. Joy is not the same as happiness. You may not be happy all the time, but you can choose to look beyond your circumstances.
Is there anything you’d add to this list? While schools may not implement many of these lessons into their curriculum parents and teachers can take time to impart them to students in other ways so that they’re better prepared to face the world after high school.
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