Are We Preparing Teens for Life in the Real World?





When teens reach high school age and are thinking about college, they will be entering a different phase in their lives. They will be young adults. Do parents prepare their 17, 18 or 19 year old grown children for life in the “real world’?

I researched family living kinds of courses in high schools and found some books that were used in family health and home economics class that were dated back to 1973. Life has changed quite a bit since then.

We had a Family Living course in high school that was mandatory for seniors. It was a co-ed class; boys and girls were teamed up as a couple at the beginning of the class. After the expected giggling and wisecracks, we realized it was a serious class – one we had to pass or it might affect our graduation. We were given explicit instructions:

As a “couple”, we would discuss our job choices; salaries and savings; getting engaged; getting married and all the details leading up to these events. Included were costs of weddings, receptions, honeymoons. Banking, writing checks, and keeping budgets were serious factors.

After the marriage, we would discuss expectations of each other; where we would live, rental options, house-buying and getting a mortgage; setting up an expense budget; relationships with in-laws; and day-to-day expenses as well as large purchases, such as a car. These subjects were an eye-opener and allowed a closer in-depth look at our ‘mates’ and their priorities. The giggling and teasing became more serious in discussions and some “couples” started arguing.

Eventually, the “couple” would then experience being a parent. Real-sized plastic baby-dolls were dispersed – one to a couple – and again the cuteness, teasing, and giggling over whose baby was the cutest. This quickly dissipated when the teacher instructed that one or the other parent had the responsibility for this baby and one of them would always be with it to take care of it. Instructions on how to care, feed and change the baby quickly changed the fun of the baby to the reality of the baby. Each parent took turns getting up for the 2:00 am feeding. The infant was in their care for one week – whoever had the baby had to take it with them wherever they went. This was met with groans and wails that there was cheerleading practice or football games, parties or other social events that they would have to include the baby.

I don’t remember all my college and high school courses but I do remember this one vividly. We were taught responsibility for our own actions, how to control our cash flow and make budgets; the expenses of maintaining a house and how our pay checks had to cover all of the above.

Some of the couples who were so flirty at the beginning of the course could barely tolerate each other at its end. Others realized they were way too young to be “saddled with a baby” and this was a one-week experience! Others realized that marriage was not Cinderella-inspired, but a serious relationship with compromises, partnerships and sharing. For most of us, it was an awareness that life was not all fun and games but a challenge with goal-oriented choices.

An added high school Family Living course could benefit many teens today in the reality of marriage, family and adult responsibilities.   Adult life is more than texting, video games and  posting selfies.  And much more rewarding.

Marie Coppola © Revised October 2014