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Real World 101 for Teens

What the seven essential behaviors to prepare them to be the brightest stars?

Key points

  • What can we do to help our teens shine to their brightest potential?
Used with permission
Source: Used with permission

I have been that person to receive hundreds of resumes only to fill one or two job opportunities. Finding the best person with the targeted technical and soft skills for the position is like trying pick out the brightest star on a starry night. What do we need to know in order to become the brightest star and stand out.

Have you ever met someone who was not quite prepared for the real world? Minor manner infractions that are ignored, turn into major behavioral issues. On one hand, teens are kids and should have fun, make mistakes, and learn from them. On the other hand, actions could have both positive and negative consequences in their immediate and long-term future. Thus, a little emotional and social intelligence certainly goes a long way.

1. Maintain a squeaky clean online persona

Anything controversial or overly personal that is leaked and posted could be career damaging. Hollywood is the only place where sex tapes and nude images are comparable to Executive MBAs. However, in most other industries, inappropriate internet activity and bad digital citizenship could be a deal breaker. No future employer, mentor, professor, or coach wants to see private parts or read unfiltered thoughts.

2. Always be nice

It’s never too early to meet people and give a positive first impression by simply being nice. The more people who know and have a positive opinion of the teen, the bigger his/her/their network (“cast your net and work it”, Luskin, 2014), which instantly increases the number of potential opportunities. People remember kind and unkind behavior. If there is one opportunity available between two people; one is generally kind and the other is not, who do you think will win?

3. Get as much hands-on, practical work experience as possible through jobs, internships, and volunteer gigs

This is not a promotion for youth work-a-holism, but the more exposure he or she has in the real world, the more marketable and well-prepared he or she will be upon arrival. Teens need the opportunity to use their judgment to make decisions and mistakes. Employers expect real world rookies to have their learning curves, so work exposure will help them enter on a different playing field.

4. Be participant observers in online professional groups

Teens can request to join professional social media groups and email listserves for career fields of interest. They may not post or actively participate, but they can read, listen, and learn about trending topics, as well as the interpersonal political dynamics between some of the players in the field. Most seasoned veterans love to help rookies, so it’s a good place for them to post an intelligent field-oriented question to make an introduction and hear valuable advice they might not learn from family or in the classroom. It is also a good place to informally meet a mentor.

5. Show a sense of personal responsibility

As a graduate professor, it is clearly evident when students own their learning processes. They are resourceful and read what they can and follow up with specific questions, so working with them is a pleasure because we are partners in their intellectual journey. Students who are awkwardly told to “look it up” are very transparent about their lack of ownership of their education.

6. Be humble

Being young and carefree certainly has its perks, but it is also about paying dues: learning and working hard, as well as doing grit work. Nobody is entitled to anything, especially a teen with an attitude. Glamorous and exciting leadership opportunities require some type of grit work in the beginning. There are a lot of directions to follow at this time, so the sooner they get that, the better. Accomplishments are earned by practice, perseverance, and hard work; not by just showing up.

7. Listen actively and carefully

Listening is by far the most underrated life skill. Bolton (1979) pointed out that we are formally taught how to read and write, but not listen. There are times when important information is only shared once and it is their responsibility to learn it. Not everyone will repeat themselves multiple times to ensure they get it.

Teens leaving their nest to enter the real world will be daunting enough. Giving them a taste of reality under parental and community guidance will only help with the transition. Harry Nerenberg, Retired College Counselor at Miami Palmetto Senior High School, insists that Dr. Seuss said it best- "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose." This relates to the entire college and employment search, as well as the emotional and social intelligence they really need to thrive and become the brightest shining stars.

To learn more about emotional and social intelligence in the dissertation context, check out Finish Your Dissertation, Don't Let it Finish You!


Bolton, R., (1979). People Skills. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

Luskin, B., (2014). PCSD: Positive Commencement Success Decisions. Psychology Today Blog.

Nerenberg, H., (2014). Personal conversation.