Wednesday 18 September 2019

15 life skills every teenager needs to learn before college

From cooking an omelette to sticking to a budget, Arlene Harris looks at the essentials for being prepared for third-level education

Students must learn to behave like adults — cooking, doing chores and setting a budget
Students must learn to behave like adults — cooking, doing chores and setting a budget

Arlene Harris

Thousands of young people will be heading off to college in a couple of weeks and while this is undoubtedly one of the biggest steps they will take in their young lives, many might not be prepared for their first foray into independent living.

We asked some experts for the lowdown on what first year students should be able to deal with when they leave home for the first time.

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1. How to deal with uncomfortable situations

Part and parcel of becoming an adult is learning how to cope with uncomfortable situations, says psychotherapy counsellor Orla McHugh.

"Avoiding something which makes you feel uncomfortable isn't the answer as the more you do this, the higher the stress levels go and each time you are faced with something unpleasant, it makes it harder to deal with," she says. "So if a student finds a lecture, debate topic or someone else's opinion unpleasant, they should only absent themselves if it is personally distressing as it's important to learn how to develop critical thinking and listen to different points of view."

2. How to cope with anxiety

We all feel anxious from time to time but according to McHugh, young people today seem to have more triggers than they may have done in the past.

"There's a lot more anxiety around these days due to social media putting unrealistic pressure on people," she says. "It doesn't help that many college campuses are vast and lectures very full, which can be daunting for new students. The smaller colleges or lecture groups seem to be the easiest to adjust to because most young people will have been cosseted in school and at home, and suddenly they are left to fend for themselves - so it's important to join societies and seek help if stress or anxiety is mounting."

Parents must talk to their teenagers about consent. Stock picture
Parents must talk to their teenagers about consent. Stock picture

3. How to start a conversation with a stranger

"Children should be taught how to talk to strangers from a young age in small steps rather than a dramatic leap into mixing with lots of new people when they go to university," says psychotherapist Stella O'Malley. "We are all guilty of cosseting our children too much and have created unnecessary problems for them once they are out in the world on their own, so if they are finding it hard to get by on their own, they will need extra support from both parents and at college."

4. How to fail (and fail better)

Failure is part of life and O'Malley says young people today are less equipped to deal with this than previous generations.

"A lot of students fall off a cliff when they experience failure for the first time," she says. "We need to tell our students they will have failures in college and life, but this is fine and ultimately they will be ok."

5. How to get (and keep) a part-time job

Career and interview coach Paul Mullan of Measurability says: "Your CV must sell yourself to the max. If you've limited work experience, highlight sporting or extracurricular achievements, educational awards, voluntary work, fundraising or positions of responsibility within school or community. Try to build rapport with the interviewer. If they like you, there's a good chance they'll hire you."

6. How to cook a simple meal

According to Joana Da Silva, Technical Executive of, students starting college next month should be able to rustle up a couple of basic recipes such as spaghetti bolognese, chicken curry or even an omelette.

"Pasta and rice are quick and cheap, easy to cook and won't go off while tinned or frozen vegetables make dishes more filling," she says.

7. How to be a savvy shopper

Sarah Keogh, dietitian and founder of, says lack of planning can result in overspending.

"Setting a grocery budget is important and while it might sound boring, it's a good idea to plan for the week ahead rather than buying stuff when you run out. It's also important to consider lunch as it's much more cost effective to buy a sliced pan and fillings than to keep forking out on deli-sandwiches."

8. How to be alcohol aware

A spokesperson for says: "Stick to the low-risk drinking guidelines (no more than 14 units a week) as you are less likely to suffer from alcohol poisoning or other side effects," she says. "Make sure to eat before you drink, keep an eye on your drink to make sure it doesn't get spiked (with drugs or other alcohol) and stay with your friends."

9. How to get (and give) consent

Classes on sexual consent are now being rolled out in universities across the country, but there is still an onus on parents to talk to their teenagers about sex, relationships, boundaries and respect. Talk to your teenager about how they treat sexual partners - and how they expect to be treated too.

10. How to manage credit history

It's important to talk to teenagers about the impact missed loan payments can have on their financial future, says 'Money Doctor' John Lowe.

"One missed payment can lead to a blip on your credit history, which is there for five years," he explains. "A judgment against you is there for life."

11. How to budget and save

Not all college students are bad at managing their money, says Lowe. And while he says children should be introduced to the concept of managing and saving money at seven years old, it's not too late to start talking to them about the importance of budgeting. "Remember, we adopt our spending traits from our parents, so it's important to set a good example."

12. How to behave like an adult

At 18, young people are deemed to be adults and etiquette expert Tina Koumarianos says this means they should know how to behave accordingly. "Always treat lecturers with respect, you are not a little child with a grudge against the teacher," she says. "You have elected to do this course and you need to treat them like a boss in a working environment."

13. How to be on time

Koumarianos says being late shows a lack of respect and students need to learn how to be punctual. "They must turn up to lectures on time, have some courtesy and hand in assignments when they are due," she says.

14. How to pack

New students may be tempted to bring everything they have ever owned to college, but space will be an issue. So find out what is included in the accommodation, then decide what is essential. Don't pack any valuables but, if there is room in your luggage, bring a few homely touches.

15. How to have fun

While it's important to take lectures seriously, it's also vital to enjoy down time, make new friends, join societies and become thoroughly immersed in college life.

Irish Independent

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