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Column originally published Sep 24, 2019

Back To Basic: Parents Should Teach Their Children Life Skills

Question: I have a disagreement with my sister. She has two children. When I visited them recently, her twelve-year-old daughter was washing dishes by hand after dinner. They have a dishwasher, but she was not allowed to use it. I remember doing that when I was a kid, and it was the most boring job. My sister had her eight-year-old son helping her to peel potatoes, wash vegetables, and other chores when she was preparing dinner. I know her children wanted to play videogames and watch movies instead. I think she is being mean to her children, what do you think?


It looks like your sister is trying to teach her children some basic life skills. I actually applaud her for doing that; not enough parents spend time with their children doing these things.

I understand why you question her decision on not using the dishwasher. Not every home has a dishwasher; the machine can break down, or the power is off. It is a good idea to teach children how to do things manually when they are young. Otherwise, she may never know how to properly wash and dry dishes. Washing vegetables and peeling potatoes may not be fun, but this can be a great bonding opportunity between mother and son.

Parents should limit screen time for children at an early age. It is far more healthy for them to play outside than sitting in front of a screen. When they are old enough, they can take on additional responsibilities, like doing the laundry and mowing the lawn. Don’t call them chores, they are things that need to be done around the house. Children can do more as they mature. Parents need to show them how to do these things properly and safely.

Children can be given allowance to buy things that they like. I don’t recommend paying them to mow the lawn or rake the leaves. They should contribute to the family, and do their share around the house.

Parents can teach their children to help neighbours, those who are seniors and disabled. If they have finished with the yard, they can help to clean the neighbour’s yard. They can do this without getting paid; this can give them the idea of neighbour-helping-neighbour. A mother just told me that her young adult son got a good paying job because he helped a neighbour to clear fallen branches after Hurricane Dorian, and met someone who appreciated his generosity and offered him the job!

Many teenagers want to buy their first car as early as possible by working after school. Some parents believe that they can learn the value of money at an early age. This may be true, but there is more to consider. In order to buy their dream car, many teenagers try to work as much as possible. This will reduce the time and energy that they can devote to their homework and study.

Auto insurance is much higher for teenagers. Every year, we have a number of young people who die or suffer serious injuries on the road. Once they have the car, they become the glorified taxi-driver for their friends. Even if they get money for gas, it won’t cover repair or insurance.

It is far better for teenager to do volunteer work with their spare time. There are many community organizations, hospitals, and churches that are looking for volunteers. They can learn valuable experience, and meet others with similar goals in life. Some colleges and universities require volunteer work for acceptance in certain programs.

I have gone over and beyond your question. I hope you realize that your sister is trying to teach her children to be self-sufficient, to learn important life lessons at an early age. They are going to become more healthy and confident adults than those who spend lots of time on screen.