Raising Competent Kids in an Incompetent World

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Author of Be Ready for Anything and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course

It’s probably no surprise that the young people of today aren’t particularly independent.  Not only does the “education” system take great pains to mold them into a bunch of  terrified, follow-the-herd automatons, society, in general, doesn’t force them to do much for themselves either.

I’ll never forget when my oldest daughter came home for summer vacation after her first year of college.  She told me that her younger sister, age 13 at the time, was much more mature and competent than many of the kids in her student apartment building.  “I had to show a bunch of them how to do laundry and they didn’t even know how to make a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese,” she said.

Apparently they were likewise in awe of her ability to cook actual food that did not originate in a pouch or box, her skills at changing a tire, her knack for making coffee using a French press instead of a coffee maker, and her ease at operating a washing machine and clothes dryer.

One girl, she told me, kept coming to my daughter’s apartment for tea and finally my daughter said, “I can’t afford to keep giving you all my tea. You’re going to have to make your own tea in your apartment. The girls said sadly that she couldn’t because she didn’t have a tea kettle. She was gobsmacked when my daughter explained how to boil water in a regular cooking pot for making tea.

At long last, my daughter admitted that even though she thought I was being mean at the time I began making her do things for herself, she’s now glad that she possesses those skills.  Hers was also the apartment that had everything needed to solve everyday problems: basic tools, first aid supplies, OTC medicine, and home remedies.

This got me thinking about how life will be when disaster eventually strikes.

If the country is populated by a bunch of people who can’t even cook a box of macaroni and cheese when their stoves function at optimum efficiency, and who can’t figure out how to make something as simple as tea in a different cooking vessel, how on earth will they sustain themselves when they have to not only acquire their food, but must use off-grid methods to prepare it? How can someone who requires an instruction manual to operate a digital thermostat hope to keep warm when their home environment it controlled by wood they have collected and fires they have lit with it?

And honestly, we can’t just blame the young people of today. We know that these types of skills aren’t taught in school, so shere have their parents been? Why hasn’t this generation been taught to cook, clean, problem-solve, and handle money? People often praise my kids for being competent but the things they do should not be that unusual. If you never give a kid responsibility or show them how to create a workaround, how do you expect them to magically be able to “adult” just because they hit some arbitrary age? I have always included my children in my preparedness plans, my financial plans, and just everyday life plans and it has made them far more confident and ready to face the world as they’ve reached adulthood.

Let’s look at some less dramatic, but more likely, situations. This isn’t even about prepping, per se, but about life skills.

Job Loss

In the current economy, it might not even be as cut and dried as job loss – the new generation may never find work at all.  When you have little-to-no money, cost-cutting efforts in order to get by requires certain skills and adaptations to stay fed and clean.  Your kids need to know how to:

  • Cook inexpensive, nutritious meals from scratch using pantry basics
  • Do laundry by hand and hang it to dry
  • Get from point A to point B using public transit or – gasp – by walking
  • Budget limited money so that the most important things are paid first
  • Mend and repair items instead of replacing them

Power Outage Due to Natural Disaster

We’ve all seen the aftermath of hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, and superstorms.  California just lost power for over a week to “prevent” wildfires.

Your kids should be able to:

  • Keep warm, whether that means safely operating an indoor propane heater, using the woodstove/fireplace, or bundling up in a tent and sleeping bags in the living room
  • Keep fed – they should have enough supplies on hand that they can stay fed at home for at least two weeks without leaving the house: cereal, powdered milk, granola bars, canned fruit, etc.
  • Keep safe – they need to understand when it’s dangerous to go out and about and they need to have basic self-defense and weapons-handling skills.
  • As well, they need to understand the dangers of off-grid heating and cooking, such as the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in unventilated rooms, and to know how to lessen these risks.

Illness and Injury

This can happen anywhere at any time.  Keeping a cool head when someone is ill or injured is the absolute most important step towards a good outcome. My kids both took babysitting courses and First Aid courses to further their money-making abilities as young teens, but the skills learned there go much further than bandaging a toddler’s scraped knee.  Kids should:

  • Take a course in First Aid, CPR, and anything else applicable that is offered.  The more you know, the calmer you are able to remain during a crisis.
  • Have a good basic First Aid kit and know how to use everything in it. Yes, that means “wasting” a few supplies by tearing them open and going through the use of them.
  • Know some home remedies for various common illnesses: teas for tummy aches, treatment for flu symptoms, how to soothe skin irritations, and how to care for a fever.
  • Have some basic over the counter medications on hand, like pills for diarrhea, pills for indigestion, and pain relievers.

Automotive Safety

An astonishing number of young adults don’t know how to drive. Fewer people than ever are getting their driver’s licenses.

Back when I was a kid, the most exciting thing in my teenage life was getting behind the wheel of a car, getting a learner’s permit when I was fourteen, and having that permit turn into a real driver’s license on my 16th birthday. This was freedom, baby!

Now, many kids couldn’t care less if they ever learn how to drive.  Instead, they rely on public transit or friends and family members that drive.  It’s one thing if you live in a major metropolitan area, but in places with lower populations, it seems that this is a vital skill.  In order to transport yourself to work and school, or to help out in the event of an emergency, it seems to me that kids should know how to:

  • Drive.  Not only an automatic transmission but also a standard transmission
  • Change a tire.  You don’t want your teenage daughter stranded on the side of the road at the mercy of whoever stops to help. My daughter was not allowed to drive the car until she demonstrated her ability to change the tire with the factory jack.
  • Perform minor maintenance, like checking the oil and fluid levels, filling up the washer fluid, checking tire pressures and topping them up if needed, and changing the windshield wiper blades.  I have a background in the automotive industry, so I also taught my daughter how to change the oil, which is nice to know, but not absolutely necessary.

And finally, what about day-to-day life skills?

I was truly surprised when my daughter told me about the lack of life skills her friends have.  I always thought maybe I was secretly lazy and that was the basis on my insistence that my girls be able to fend for themselves. But it honestly prepared them for life far better than if I was a hands-on mom that did absolutely everything for them. They needed to realize that clothing does not get worn and then neatly reappear on a hanger in the closet, ready to be worn again. They need to understand that meals do not magically appear on the table, created by singing appliances ala Beauty and the Beast.

Here are some of the life skills that kids should have gained before leaving the nest:

  • How to use basic tools for repairs
  • How to cook a healthy meal
  • How to grocery shop within a budget and have healthy food for the week ahead
  • Speaking of that, how to budget in general, so that they don’t have “too much month and not enough money”
  • How to clean
  • How to do laundry, including stain removal
  • How to think for themselves and question authority
  • How to manage their time to get necessary tasks accomplished by the deadlines
  • How to tell the difference between a want and a need
  • How to be frugal with utilities and consumable goods
  • How to pay bills
  • How to stay out of debt (not easy with the college credit card racket that you see on campuses across the country and rampant student loans)

Competent kids turn into competent adults.

The more they practice these things under your watchful eye, the more competent they will be when they set out on their own.  We all want our kids to be successful and independent and this is on us as parents. Don’t allow your kids to become crippled by a world that babies them in the name of convenience.

What are some of the skills you’ve taught your kids to prepare them for the real world? Have you witnessed some young adults who seem to be struggling to handle real life? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • Fantastic article!! Many will suffer unnecessarily because many life skills have been lost due to modern conveniences. When conveniences are no longer available they will be shocked.

  • Our kids are the about the same ages it seems (I do have an extra 6 year old). My daughter was also shocked at the lack of “normal living skills” as she put it. She helped a girl pack up at the dorms (my daughter lives off campus, free with her step sister’s aunt – she worked that and her tuition out on her own). The girls had a box of paper ware – so she didn’t have to do dishes, she had a stock pile of dried goods and a special back pack that my daughter figured out right away – her friend was a prepper and they had never talked about it. The one thing they are both bad at is vehicle maintance and self defence. I talked a few of my young Marines into teaching them some modified mixed martial arts (it wasn’t a hard task to get vollenteers for oddly enough) and I am going to take them both out a few times for weapons training. Then we will have “car troubles” that they will have to fix. Should be an educational summer.

  • How can someone who requires an instruction manual to operate a digital thermostat hope to keep warm when their home environment it controlled by wood they have collected and fires they have lit with it?

    That sentence gave me a chuckle. I don’t know what your digital thermostat is like, but mine has a huge number of buttons, most of which have dual functions, hinted at by cryptic labels in different colors. I am not ashamed to say that I pulled out the manual rather than spending hours experimenting with it. Starting and tending a fire are relatively easy in comparison.

    Excellent column, however: teaching children basic life skills such as you mention is extremely important and often neglected.

    • Great point, JdL! Some of those are pretty technical. I was imagining the one in my last home, which was just basically up arrows and down arrows, with a switch that said “Heat, Off, Cool”. 😀

  • We camped with our kids for many years…While they are more comfortable in their ‘digital worlds’ at least they have some basic skills…I have been surprised by their actions at times that caused me to ‘pat myself on the back’ that I have certainly given them some precious basic knowledge they have been able to put into use in ‘real life’…One in particular that comes to mind is my daughter’s knack for shopping frugally and basic cooking knowledge…she lives with her dad, who lives off packaged foods…and has the poor health to show it…she tries to do most of the grocery shopping and does a good job of it!

  • Raising kids is hard work. Takes (some) money and A LOT of time. Time, IMHO, is the issue. Parent(s) don’t want to give up any of their time. Yes, it can take at least twice as much time to do a chore with your kid. But if you are consistent, it eventually will not. Young kids like to “help”/help. Encourage this by all mean.
    People were shocked to find out we charged out kids rent after they graduated from college. They lived at home with the understanding they a) paid rent (reasonable) and other expenses such as their cell phone, b) helped out around the house, and c) saved money. They both had money when they graduated from college, none of us had any college debt. They did move out and have never needed any financial help.
    I’ve always said the goal is for your kids to *not* need you.

  • We taught our children many life skills. How to cook, garden, care for animals, budget money, earn their own money, basic car repair, how to compare shop for the best deal, how to consider “previously enjoyed” items instead of new, how to question what people say to see if it makes sense , the importance of having God in their life, how to preserve food, how to hunt , how to think creatively or outside the box and many other “life” skills. They are now adults and appreciate the knowledge and skills they learned. It’s going to be really rough if our current way of living is greatly disrupted.

  • Good to see Mrs. Luthor’s daughter knows when and how to be charitable; that little tea mooch story was funny.

    Her tealess friend may have also been spoiled by automatic kettles though. Tea isn’t best made in boiling water, so she may have assumed a machine or someone who knows how, was the only way to get the right temperature, on average around 12 degrees below boiling.

    Still, is it the fashion of young college girls now to pretend to have no domestic life skills, or are guys like that now too? One can sort of see that coming as a post-feminist reaction in girl culture, less so in guys. (Us guys being inveterate know-it-alls.)

    SHTF is already happening; poverty and homelessness is far more common now than it used to be. There is no ‘when disaster strikes’; its ongoing. The very poor in Bahamas, after Dorian, for example, probably noticed an uptick in shanty material but no great change in living lean.

    One thing that will come up more and more, is the expectation to share and entitlement to be shared with. Kids in school have been conditioned to expect compulsory sharing of things like crayons and such for over a decade now.

    Refusal however legit will eventually elicit not lame excuses, but an entitlement to take, to be seen not as theft but righteous anti-social ‘behavior correction’ supported by the state. It will be the middle and lower classes encouraged to prey on one another, as usual.

  • I taught our son and daughter competency with firearms: shotgun, rifle, semi-auto pistol, and revolver. Know how to reload the firearm. Know how to strip the firearm, clean and lube it. Know how to hand load ammunition. Automotive care and maintenance. Know how to preserve food (drying, smoking, canning). Both were in scouting programs and acquired basic outdoor skills that I reinforced on the weekends.

  • Ask those that left post Wilmar republic, pre national socialist Germany in the 30’s. Ask Bernizualians who left Chavez’s Bernizualia. Ask those who left Penuche’s Chili early on. Ask those who left Castro’s Cuba just before. Don’t ask those who fled to Guadalcanal just before WW2.

    Who can know?

    That said how bad can the US get and anyone find you in North Dakota? How bad can Canada get and anyone find you in the North Yukon Territory? Of course it will suck there…

    • It gets real cold in Canada; a real SHTF would over in a couple of winters for the citified majority who couldn’t flee south.

      NWT and Nunavut are ridiculously expensive places to live because all the sheeple food has to be flown in. Many of the Eskimo have also abandoned traditional lifestyles.

      Climate change has hammered some primary game species, for example while caribou are effectively extinct in the lower 48 they aren’t doing much better northwards in Canada. The weather is out of sync with their established breeding and feeding patterns so calves aren’t surviving to adulthood.

  • I wish my parents had taught me about money management. I also wish they’d taught me how to cook nutritious, tasty, inexpensive hot meals. Lastly I wish they’d taught me how to sew. Teaching myself these skills as an adult was a slow, difficult and expensive process. We laugh at these stories of helpless college kids, but who is there to blame except their parents?

  • I may have posted this before but we taught BOTH our boys how to take care of themselves. They know how to cook from scratch, clean, do laundry PROPERLY AND know how to sew (son 2 does a better job of sewing than his brother though, LOL), take care of their cars, take care of their children. None of this “women’s work” crap in this household. My MIL did that with her 5 boys as well.

  • If you are more or less opposed to the way the modern world functions, why on earth do you participate at facebook, twitter, etc?? I get along just fine without those sites and I assume many people with the same interests (about self-reliance) get along with those, too. It seems rather contradictory, doncha think? Preach one thing, do another? That’s how I see it.

    This was a great article and I’m passing it on (through email only) to my son and DIL who have 6 kids) ages 11 and under. They will probably ignore it but I hafta keep trying! My DIL posts photos of the grandkids on her facebook account and I’ve never ever been comfortable with that. In the past 8 or so years, I’ve read so much junk about how those sites operate, I wouldn’t post a dang thing to any of them. Most of the older people I know who signed up for those sites, have dropped their accounts or simply don’t speak out there any longer for fear of being tracked too closely. It took me a long time to even start using a computer for email. Phones are just plain scary these days. And now tracking devices being implanted into humans?? What in the world are we thinking?

    • I do it because it’s my job. 🙂 It’s how to reach the most people. And if I have to go into a “bad” neighborhood online to do it, I’m not going to let that stop me.

      • So, you’re willing to drag other people into a “bad neighborhood” just to pass on your message – – about being independent? There are other ways to pass things on without using all the gadgets of today, that was my point. Yeah, it might be a little slower but being in “fast mode” is what’s getting us into trouble. I always have to laugh when I see these sites talking about being independent but at the bottom of the page there is the line about hooking up with them at facebook or instagram or twitter, etc. It does seem we’re preaching one message but supporting another.

        • I’m hardly “dragging” anyone to Facebook. If they’re already there, we connect. I gave you the courtesy of an answer to your question, although the tone was insulting. After my reply, it appears you just want to have an argument. You’ll have to find that elsewhere.

          I hope you have a great day.

  • We have 5 grown, married children. One of the catchphrases at our house is ‘ we weren’t raising teenagers, we were raising young adults.’

  • I am also concerned for our youth. My son was in the USMC for one tour, ending in August, 2020. He was amazed that his fellow Marines mostly didn’t know how to change the oil in their car, or even how to drive a manual transmission. He apparently turned down multiple requests to learn on HIS car! Both he and my daughter are amazing cooks, taking after me, of course. We have helped families and youth over the years. We have canned for years; all hands on deck. My other son made rough cut lumber from a 5-foot on the stump fir tree in his side yard; he also fell the tree himself. We don’t feel special– only blessed.

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