Leaving the nest

28 December 2015

The practical skills teens need to fend for themselves 

You’ve been right there at their side for the whole of their young lives. So how will they manage when they leave your nurturing nest?

Home is the hatching-pot for the practical hands-on skills your teenagers will need to unpack as they move out into the world. As parents we want them to have the know-how to navigate life without being reliant on others. But do we underestimate what our children’s practical capabilities are, right from their early years?

Our parental instinct to smooth the path for our kids thwarts their independence, says father-of-three Matt, whose daughter Lily moved out of home last year to start university, aged 17. “Naturally we do things for them because we love them so much, but we create a trap for ourselves,” he says.

Sowing the seeds of independence

You may have seen the quote floating around on social media: ‘Having kids is like cleaning up after a huge party you didn’t attend’. Dave – father of two boys aged 13 and 15 – says it really does feel like that sometimes. “It’s the small things, like not picking up after themselves,” he says. “I notice their friends are far more independent – I put that down to the fact we did way too much for ours early on.”

Lately that’s changed, says Dave. “We’ve had to put our foot down and say, look, we’re all here together, get involved, sort a load of washing, rinse the bottles for the rubbish, whatever.”

Matt sees how easy it is for kids to fall back into their comfort zone and not feel the need to cook or clean up at home because they see mum and dad covering it. “But when fronted with the responsibility, it will certainly happen,” he says. “I found it was a drip feed, bit by bit. I had to back off.”

We can sow the seeds of independence by encouraging simple self-help skills from early on. Then responsibility for chores – like making basic meals – can grow as our kids do. That way, as they shed their school-skins and burst into their futures, they’ll be able to cook something that didn’t originate in a box.

It was the basics like “grocery shopping with specific meals in mind” that Matt says was the initial challenge for his daughter Lily, now 18, when she moved out of home last year. “She had to learn how to plan ahead, get into a system – so she knew what she was going to cook, take for lunch, which train to catch. Organisation was a biggie.”

Share house nous

Aside from the invaluable behavioural insights that emerge from living in a shared house, the benefits include splitting the cost of rent and electricity, building friendships (mostly) and the security of having others around. But negatives can rear their ugly head over cleanliness, bills and lifestyle differences.

Setting clear ground rules with housemates at the outset about shared costs and shared responsibility for household chores, and knowing everyone’s view on noise, visitors and parties will save trouble down the track.

Householders who are clear about their role within the group will feel part of the set-up, rather than just a passenger along for the ride.

University of Queensland manager of student living and life skills Yonna Cowan sees hundreds of kids who have moved out of home each year. She shares some key ‘know-how’ that will smooth the transition from living at home to living in independent or shared households.

Clued-up for changes and challenges

Yes, it can be bit of a shock to find that landlords, bosses, police and lecturers are not as friendly or pliable as parents. Yes, there’ll be challenging situations and challenging people.

Yonna says it helps to think of all situations – good and bad – as learning experiences. “We don’t live in a perfect world so when you come out the other side of a tough situation, think about what could’ve been done differently and try an alternative if something like that pops up in the future,” she says.

It also helps to be as proactive as you can in everyday situations, Yonna explains. “Think beyond now to do a bit of planning – it will take you a long way in the future.”

We can all face up to challenges and turn them into opportunities, says Stacey Copus, author of How To Be Resilient – The Blueprint For Getting Results When Things Don't Go To Plan. Stacey became a quadriplegic after an accident when she was 12, and is now a keynote speaker, author and resilience consultant. She is training to qualify for the 100m at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

The ability to turn challenge and change into results is – more than ever – a competitive advantage, she explains. “A person who embraces change will leave behind those who are still talking about how hard done by they are.”

No one is immune to adversity, and the best way to cope with it is to take action by aiming for results. Even just baby steps to begin with. First, you need to be responsible for your actions and take control of your life, Stacey says. “Self-blame can get to the best of us, but by pinning the blame on others you relinquish your control of the situation.”

Enlisting help

Leaving home for the first time invites responsibility. But that doesn’t mean tackling everything on your own. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask others for help,” Yonna says. There are people around with more experience and it is okay to ask if you’re not sure, right from what kind of washing powder to use to bigger life choices.

Emotions happen too. “It’s okay to have days where you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and need someone to chat to, and sometimes you might just want to have a good cry,” Yonna says. “Don’t hide yourself away in a room or away from other people who want to help – chat to someone you trust.” Even if they don’t have an answer, it often makes you feel a bit better to chat to someone about a situation, she explains.

There’s also plenty of places online to find backup, like Kids Helpline or the ‘Get out there’ survival guide for young adults. The guide is loaded with useful tips on a wide range of topics including renting and sharing a house as well as budgeting, shopping, managing stress, staying healthy, alcohol and your body, safe sex and sexual health, sun safety, voting and paying fines.

Protecting yourself and your belongings


Fire: By law every house must have at least one working smoke alarm. You can’t smell smoke when you’re asleep so a working smoke alarm could save your life. Landlords are only responsible for fitting the alarm; it’s the tenants’ responsibility to maintain them – which includes testing the alarm, changing the batteries and keeping it clean.

Electricity: A safety switch is one of the most important safety items in your home. It’s designed to cut off the power if there’s a fault in equipment or wiring. Safety switch instalment is the owner’s responsibility, but you need to check your switchboard has one – and test it every few months. Pressing the button (labelled ‘test’) will cut power to protected circuits – if it doesn’t, contact your landlord/agent.

Right up to the point where your young adult child will stand at the front door and say goodbye, we won’t be sure they’ll have it covered. “But, you reach that stage of your life and theirs where you know you’ve done the best you can,” says Matt.

As parents the most loving thing we can do is prepare them for adulthood by building the habits and skills that will resonate throughout their lives. For those are the best farewell gifts we could possibly give.

Goodbye and good luck!

10 essential skills for young adults moving out of home

  1. Budget your money realistically, keeping in mind what things really cost. Do the family’s grocery shopping each week within a certain budget and see how much it all adds up to. Think about other costs like power, transport and your mobile. How long can you handle a cold shower for if you haven’t paid the hot water bill?
  2. Learn to cook more than 2 Minute noodles – you can get sick of them pretty quickly! How about cooking dinner for the family a few nights a week and learning to cook your favourite food. Takeaway is nice, but can you afford it every day? Even McDonalds can get a bit boring.
  3. Learn how to negotiate with people without unnecessary conflict. Think proactively now, so when you share with others you’re used to negotiation. Think about things like doing a cleaning roster, discussing when it ‘s okay to have the music loud in the house and when it is not because someone is studying.
  4. Be aware of your rights and responsibilities as a tenant before you sign anything, so you don’t get yourself into trouble, or let yourself be taken advantage of. Check the lease conditions and your responsibilities with the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA).
  5. Keep written records of correspondence you have with landlords, real estate agents, property owners, phone companies etc. Get savvy with keeping pieces of paper and emails.
  6. Know how to fix it. If the light bulb blows, the smoke detector won’t stop beeping, the remote for the TV won’t work … you’ll need to fix it! Learn the basics for all those ‘little’ things before you leave home, otherwise you’ll be stuck listening to a beeping noise, sitting in the dark and having to get up off the couch to change the channel. For emergency repairs for the likes of a burst hot water system, gas leak or blocked toilet, ask the landlord/agent what you should do if these happen, and keep the relevant contact details handy.
  7. Keep in touch with home. They helped get you to where you are and you never know when you’ll need them for little and big things that come up.
  8. Check the mailbox. You never know when an important notice from a power or phone company, local council or landlord may end up in your mailbox. You can also find bargains in some junk mail catalogues.
  9. Think about responsibility, especially in a share-house. What happens when you run out of something? Organise who’s responsible for what. It’s one thing to run out of milk and another to run out of toilet paper!
  10. Remember, everything you drop will stay there until you clean it up!

Practical tools and information to help young adults moving out of home

The ‘Get out there’ survival guide: www.getoutthere.qld.gov.au

Kids Helpline counsellors are available by phone (1800 55 1800), email or online: www.qld.gov.au/youth/life-skills-turning-18/moving-out-of-home. www.kidshelpline.com.au

The Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) outlines rights and responsibilities as a tenant: www.rta.qld.gov.au/Renting

Written by

Kim Lahey

Kim is a freelance journalist and literacy tutor who’s penned a wide array of articles over the eight years she’s written for us, sprinkling her quirky humour into well-researched pieces. Her background in the travel industry ignited a passion for taking her three children (10, 15 and 17) backpacking whenever life and budget allows it. A keen recorder of life stories, Kim would walk to the ‘back of Bourke’ to hear someone’s story - or to find a good curry! www.wordbalance.com.au

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