Building a Focused Person (Part 3: Ages 14-Plus)

What are the most important life skills to teach a high schooler?

Posted Apr 11, 2020

We are on Part 3 of our series of raising focused kids. Finally, high school.

These four years are about building independence. By the time your child graduates high school, they should be comfortable with living and achieving independently. 

By this time, your child should be taking responsibility and practicing and perfecting lessons already learned in elementary and middle school. (If your kid is still struggling to get their work done, you may have to do remedial training on the skills discussed earlier in these posts). As you supervise your child less, one thing that can happen is for them to dig themselves into a “hole” that no one knows about until it is so deep that it becomes a big problem. For example, they may do worse and worse in a class and choose to live in denial or hope that somehow nobody will notice—until they reach a point where they are actually failing or about to fail the course. One critical skill to build in high school is “learn how to ask for help.” The resources are there for them, so make sure your child learns how to ask their teacher or a counselor for help before they get too deep into a problem situation. You can still step in as back up, but at this age your child must learn their first step is to get help themselves.  As difficult as this may be for them to learn in high school, if they don't learn it now, in college it will be even harder.  And once your kid is in college, you may have no knowledge of how they are doing academically on a frequent enough basis to intervene. They have to be able to recognize when they are getting in trouble academically and how to dig themselves out of it before it's too late.

Responsibility for personal safety is also a part of high school. That includes driving safely and avoiding harmful substances (drugs and alcohol). Again, staying alive is an important prerequisite to becoming a focused and productive adult. Make sure you demonstrate focused driving yourself (not texting, etc.) as well as appropriate alcohol consumption and other behaviors. You can’t expect your kids to learn what you don’t model yourself.  Unless of course, you want them to learn by counter-example: that is because they don’t want to end up like you.

Stress management and healthy living techniques - including consistent sleep, a balanced diet, and daily exercise - should be emphasized as part of high school. When you’re overwhelmed with homework, extracurricular activities, and a social life, it’s tempting to let these things slide. Teach your child to view sleep, healthy eating, and regular exercise as daily investments that pay big dividends in terms of physical and mental health (including focus) - rather than as luxury items to be discarded when other tasks are pressing. As with substance use/abuse, this works best, of course, if you practice what you preach.

Make sure your high schooler learns to take personal responsibility for the myriad tasks you have been doing for them all these years. That includes using a calendar to schedule tasks and keep track of their work schedule, basic laundry and cooking skills, and refilling their own prescriptions. While you can continue to give them cues—“I thought you said you were working this afternoon”—remember that once they leave home, they will need to get it all done without you to pick up after them or remind them where they are supposed to be.

Hopefully, you can use at least some of these tips if your child is still at home. If they are older and you haven’t done some of the earlier-in-life lessons, don’t despair. There is always time to learn!