In the world in which we live, and by that I mean “IEP land,” the phrase “life skills” can be loaded and confusing.

If your child is in a life skills classroom or life-skills-focused curriculum, we tend to think of students with more needs and less of a focus on traditional academics.

It seems that is where many school districts and IEP teams are–either, or. You’re either on a traditional academic path, or you’re on the life skills path.

teenager drinking a smoothie
All teenagers need life skills, not just disabled ones.

The two are not mutually exclusive, and our students should never have only 2 options. That goes against the very spirit of IDEA, which says that a child’s educational program should be individualized.

And I don’t believe that all of our kids fit into one of two buckets. The adults certainly don’t, so why would the kids?

And as a result, many students who are on a strictly academic path, with IEP supports that are strictly academic, leave school with a huge deficit in functional life skills.

‘Life skills’ has become a loaded and derogatory term in some circles. Intellectually disabled people are still some of the most marginalized people on the planet.

And, being in a life skills program is often an indication of being IDD, or “severely” autistic…or…”low functioning.” (these are not terms I use) It’s reflective of why we shouldn’t be using terms like severe or high/low functioning. One group is marginalized and one group will get left behind.

Take a look at a package of Girl Scout cookies. The Girl Scouts pride themselves on teaching life skills.

life skills wording on a package of girl scout cookies
The Girl Scouts proudly teach Life Skills. So should all of us.

Life skills refer to the abilities and competencies necessary for individuals to effectively navigate various aspects of life, such as personal and professional relationships, personal health and well-being, and financial management.

If you are looking for life skills IEP goals, or independent functioning IEP goals, I have many other lists like that in the transition IEP goals bank.

Common Life Skill Categories

All people are different and have differing abilities in various categories. How your teenager does in these over-arching categories will vary, even from child to child within the same family.

It should serve to give you an idea of what your child may need as they move into adulthood.

Some common life skills for teens include:

  1. Communication: the ability to effectively express oneself and listen actively
  2. Critical thinking: the ability to analyze and evaluate information and make sound decisions
  3. Problem-solving: the ability to identify and solve problems using creative and practical solutions
  4. Decision-making: the ability to make informed choices and weigh the pros and cons of different options
  5. Time management: the ability to prioritize tasks, manage one’s schedule, and use time effectively
  6. Stress management: the ability to manage stress and maintain a healthy work-life balance
  7. Interpersonal skills: the ability to work well with others and maintain positive relationships
  8. Leadership: the ability to lead and motivate others toward a common goal
  9. Financial management: the ability to manage money effectively and make informed financial decisions
  10. Self-care: the ability to take care of one’s physical, emotional, and mental health.

There are many life skills that teenagers should learn in order to become independent, responsible, and successful adults.

Teen Life Skills

Here are 40 life skills that every teenager should learn. Again, what you teach a child or expect them to do will vary based on their current skill sets.

Also, I put some things like “sewing” which some parents may think is useless. True, not many people sew anymore. But, a teenager or young adult should know what to do if they are headed out to a job interview or a wedding, and they end up with a missing button or tear in their pants.

So while a child may not need specific sewing skills, they need to have the problem-solving skills of what to do in a clothing emergency such as those I listed above.

Many of these skills may appear ableist when you first read them. But to live independently, or with supported living, some adaptation of these skill sets will be necessary. For example, reading and writing are on the list.

If your child cannot read or write, what will they do if they return to their apartment and there is a note stuck to the front door? What will they do with the mail they receive?

Supported living will require accommodations for skill deficits such as these.

Life Skills for Teens

  1. Basic cooking skills: Think of it as food acquisition skills. Not everyone can, nor should they, cook like Julia Child. But depending on their skill level and independence, they need to know how to acquire food for sustenance.
  2. Cleaning and organizing skills
  3. Time management skills
  4. Budgeting and financial management skills: Supported decision-making is great! Again, it’s about maximizing independence.
  5. Basic sewing skills
  6. Basic car maintenance skills, or transportation skills. Does your child know how to safely and efficiently get from Point A to Point B on their own? Or who to call if their car breaks down?
  7. Home maintenance skills
  8. First aid and CPR skills (or knowing how to ask for help in an emergency)
  9. Basic computer skills
  10. Communication skills
  11. Critical thinking skills
  12. Problem-solving skills
  13. Decision-making skills
  14. Leadership skills
  15. Public speaking skills, including the ability to ask for help, speak out or speak up when necessary.
  16. Active listening skills
  17. Conflict resolution skills
  18. Stress management skills
  19. Self-care skills
  20. Mindfulness and meditation skills
  21. Basic gardening skills, if living independently.
  22. Reading and comprehension skills
  23. Writing and grammar skills
  24. Basic research skills
  25. Time management and organization skills
  26. Goal-setting and planning skills (have them do a vision statement)
  27. Project management skills
  28. Interpersonal skills
  29. Empathy and emotional intelligence skills (to safely navigate social situations)
  30. Cultural awareness and sensitivity skills
  31. Interviewing skills
  32. Networking skills
  33. Collaboration and teamwork skills (if it’s required of them)
  34. Negotiation skills
  35. Adaptability and flexibility skills
  36. Creativity and innovation skills
  37. Problem-solving and decision-making skills
  38. Resilience and perseverance skills
  39. Public speaking and presentation skills
  40. Media literacy and digital citizenship skills

By learning these life skills, teenagers can gain the knowledge, confidence, and independence they need to navigate the challenges of adulthood and achieve their goals.