Armed with what I felt was the perfect curriculum to shape 125 young teenage minds to understand, apply, and actually enjoy world history, I walked into a classroom of sophomores in a small private school to begin my teaching career. I realized that after that first week of school, I had to reshape my expectations, working to develop soft skills for teens in them before entering college and life skills at a higher priority than interpreting how an event reshaped history.
…Because I could reshape their path for success just by developing their skill sets.
You see, having no consistent level of education and coming from a variety of feeder schools, their abilities were all over the place. Some were writing at the college level and some could hardly form a thesis statement without saying “…and now I’m going to tell you all about.”
But that doesn’t cut it in college, nor is it what’s expected in the professional workplace.
So I shifted my curriculum to focus on learning the basics of organization, oration, thesis writing, and responsibility. And subsequently also brought it into parenting my young kids.
Why parents and teachers should encourage tweens and teens to learn soft skills
Employers today look for soft skills in addition to hard skills when interviewing recent graduates. And while tweens and teens learn soft skills passively at home and school, they’re rarely taught outright.
Soft skills are those qualities that apply to a variety of jobs and life situations; they’re the bridge between schoolwork and life skills—traits like integrity, communication, common courtesy, responsibility, professionalism, and teamwork.
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While these skills are important to success in the workplace, college professors feel the same
characteristics are important to college success. Teens that successfully transition from high school to
college have the ability to manage their time, meet assignment deadlines, get along with classmates,
and deal with setbacks.
The most effective way to develop students’ soft skills is to incorporate them into various aspects of school and home life.
Which soft skills are important for kids to learn?
People develop soft skills by socializing, learning the values, and interactions with others. Because
socializing and relationship-building are part of young teen’s life, middle school is a perfect place to start
developing these essential skills if they have not already been practiced throughout elementary!
The easiest and most authentic way to teach soft skills is to be a role model. When teens frequently see
adults demonstrating these skills, they not only understand the value of them, they learn how to apply
them to real-life situations. And even though many times kids are exposed to these concepts throughout their life, understanding the importance and application begins around age 13.
Middle school is the foundation, the learning center, and the battle ground for knowing how to make better choices in the future. And the time when kids learn the necessary skills to achieve independence is adolescence.
Effective Communication (written and oral).
Help your teen develop communication skills through practice in writing, taking part in
group discussions, and presenting to a group. Of course, this is something most kids get some exposure to in school,
They should be able to show a clear thought process and proper grammar in getting their point across. And they should be able to do it without statements like “I’m going to show you how to”, “I am going to tell you about”, “I think”, etc.. In fact, teens need to be able to communicate both opinions and statements of fact (with supporting evidence) without even bringing themselves into the equation.
Integrity and trustworthiness.
While I don’t typically tempt my children, sometimes the best measure of integrity is to not protect a child from the outcomes of a situation you see them getting themselves into. (This also relates to responsibility).
So if a plate of cookies is left out, we could put them away knowing a child of any age might come and gobble them all up. And then ask them “did you eat the cookies?” Self preservation instincts dictate most kids are going to try to cover it up, but if we encourage telling the truth and speak into our kids that integrity and character happen in the moments you do something you know you should even when it’s easy to do what you shouldn’t.
It’s also possible to work on encourage integrity with group activities, especially those types of actvities that are difficult and require trust from others working on it. It can help kids understand that they have to follow through with what they say they will do. Each member of the group should be responsible for a specific job or result. At the end of the activity, have a reporting session where you discuss moments of failure and success, where communication happened, and where people showed responsibility and integrity.
Responsibility and taking responsibility.
If your teen acts irresponsibly, ask them to explain why they acted in that manner.
This gives us a brief glimpse into their minds. It also allows them to practice articulating difficult thoughts and feelings, because that part of the brain is still developing.
Then we can ask what they will do to fix the situation in the future. Encourage responsible actions by making your teen understand why what they did was wrong.
It’s also important for kids to know that they have to take responsibility for their actions and for the consequences of those actions. We can help foster the development of this through talking it out with our kids and by giving choices to help them navigate consequences.
Both of my parents were coaches and elementary PE teachers. I grew up often hearing about how “there is no I in team”. And it’s an easy phrase to say, especially playing sports. But in the more intimate moments of teamwork where people are literally counting on you, it doesn’t feel quite real enough.
As parents and educators, we can encourage teamwork and collaboration with group projects and activities. These emphasize communication, trust, integrity, and responsibility as well.
A fun way to help highlight teamwork is with a few kids, put together a scavenger hunt where they have to not only work together to solve clues, but they’re individually required to find and bring a puzzle piece to the table to solve the puzzle. Without the team effort and the individual effort, the puzzle has zero chance of being solved.
Dress for the job you want.
First impressions matter.
If you wouldn’t say it around grandma, a priest, or a toddler, it shouldn’t be said at work.
Treat every school project as if is the only thing a college or employer has to hire you based on.
These are just a few phrases to emphasize professionalism at home.
Promote professionalism by encouraging your teen to be on time and be prepared, showing respect to others, and getting their work done.
It’s important to encourage your teen to be respectful and courteous of others, either in a
group situation or a one-on- one experience. Talk to them about accountability, this will promote
respectful and courteous communication.
Give your teen long-term, problem-based projects that they must complete within specified
parameters and with a deadline. This will encourage them to be organized and focused, to problem-
solve and to learn self-motivation.
Creating open discussions around giving “padding” to complete project on time and being able to be flexible and prioritize tasks can help decrease rigidity in them and set them up for success.
Organization of time and belongings.
This was my number one goal with my sophomore class. Keep an organized binder. And I made them keep everything. Why? Because I was testing from Mesopotamia to 9/11 at the end of the year. And what they didn’t know was it was open binder testing.
I had been telling them though that if they kept the binder, they would 100% pass a Western Civilization course in college. But regardless of if they were forward thinking like that, it was a lot of information; no one could even remotely finish the test if they hadn’t studied and if they didn’t have good organization.
So they had to get the A-Z binder tabs at the beginning of the year and we sectioned off every unit doing binder checks, organizing and re-organizing, and searching for missing pieces. The highlight of the year was at the end when no student failed the test and they walked out with a super-organized binder that helped them do that. But it took the entire year to get to that point.
We can help our kids with this by planning projects backwards, knowing the end result that they do not and encouraging them to organize their life accordingly to make it happen.
Need more help making sure you have your teen on the right path?
From baffling behaviors to just making sure they’re responsible adults, feel equipped to respond to situations with positive guidance and not just anger or frustration. Get your free download by clicking the Pock Guide to Behavior image below.
Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!