Should ‘Adulting’ Skills Like Budgeting, Self-Care Be Taught In Schools?

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At the University of California, Berkeley, a new class on “adulting” is so popular that it’s turning students away. The class teaches budgeting, meal planning, time management, sleep, self-care, and relationships—important life skills that many college students may not have a grasp on yet.

The course is taught by UC Berkeley juniors Belle Lau and Jenny Zhou, and includes some guest speakers on key topics. When Lau and Zhou first arrived at college from out of state, they struggled with the basics of self-reliance when suddenly living without their families, and they noticed that many fellow students were having the same issues.

A 2019 survey of 2,000 adult Americans showed that 89 percent of people believe life would be easier now if they’d learned more practical skills in school, and that they didn’t truly grasp many “adulting” life skills until, on average, age 29. The top five skills the respondents wished they’d been taught in school were how to do taxes, manage money, boost their own well-being, negotiate, and understand how student loans and debt work.

Parents tend to agree, with at least one study finding that the majority of parents want schools to teach their kids life skills ranging from socialization to managing their own cyber security. There’s evidence that life skills are highly sought after in the job market, too. In a poll, High Point University in High Point, North Carolina found that executives who hire recent college grads prefer that new employees come equipped with life skills like motivation, problem solving, and emotional intelligence—even more so than technical skills specific to the job.

College-bound teens may be so focused on academics and extracurricular activities that they miss learning these basic survival skills before they leave home. Plus, many high schools have stopped offering life skills classes—with a 38 percent drop in the number of students enrolled in so-called “family and consumer sciences” classes in the decade between 2002 and 2012—and perhaps parents (and/or technology) have been doing too much for their kids rather than making them figure things out for themselves.

Students in the UC Berkeley class are eager to catch up on these life skills. Lauren Frailey, an economics major who is in the class, says, “It’s harder to budget when you’re not living at home because you have a lot more expenses. I’m excited to learn how to manage my time better and that will definitely help me manage my stress as well.”

Allegra Estrada, a pre-med student who is also enrolled in the adulting course, pointed out, “You can know as much as you want about physics or biology or English but that doesn’t help you when you need to do taxes or figure out what to eat.” Estrada joked that she didn’t even know how to send snail mail: “I had to ask my sister, like what do you put on the letter, how do you do it.”

Parents who want their teens to be more prepared for the basics of life can think about giving kids more responsibilities around the house, even starting at preschool age. Starting an allowance program and giving kids the opportunity to manage their money is another way to equip kids with some important skills and confidence.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.