Math-Related Life Skills Your Teenager Will Need

During the high school years, college bound students are taking Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, etc. They are NOT taking "real life" classes like Math for Everyday Living. Thus, these teens are not learning anything about buying cars, renting an apartment, getting a loan, etc. Teens truly have NO CLUE about the actual cost of everyday living. One of the most important things you can do for you teen is to expose him/her to "real life" math by including him/her when you are budgeting, grocery shopping, cooking, paying bills, etc. You teen is very close to graduation. Your teen needs you to:

1. Give a reality check on the costs of monthly and yearly expenses. Several times during his/her high school years, have your teen "help" you pay bills. Ask him to list the items he thinks you have to pay and have him guess how much you pay. Be sure to include everything: groceries, utilities, rent or house payment, trash service, car payments, gasoline for the car, health insurance payments, cell phone, cable/internet, and so on. Then have him compare his guesses with reality. Then add the real figures together for a monthly total. Then multiply by 12 for the yearly total. Then add in the "once in a while" expenses like dentist, doctor, car insurance, eye glasses, clothing, and car repairs. Your teen needs to understand that a minimum wage job won't cover his necessities--let alone his desires.

2. Make certain he/she understand bills and pay stubs. If your teen has a job, compare that pay stub with yours. Discuss the various deductions (state tax, federal tax, social security, medical insurance, dues, etc.). Be sure the your teen understands that most of the deductions are based on a percentage of the income. This means that getting a raise means all of those deductions increase, so the final result will not be as much of a raise as was first thought. Be sure your teen understands how to read the various statements that come and the importance of checking them for mistakes. Credit card statements and utility bills can be very difficult to understand. Credit card companies just recently were required to add to their statements information about how long it will take to pay off the bill if nothing else is purchased and only a minimum payment is made. This is often shocking to see. Be sure to point it out!

3. Practice budgeting. Have your teen practice setting up a budget using realistic estimates of what he thinks he will make. Have him research the job he wants and get a realistic starting salary estimate. Also have him research car payments (and insurance payments) for the car he wants, and rent for the apartment he would like to have. His first budget should be a "worst case scenario"--meaning calculating with minimum salary and maximum expenses. Will his job support his desires? Most likely it won't. Then discuss more realistic choices of car, apartment, clothing, etc. Remind him frequently that he can't expect to start off having everything you have. (This is especially true with electronic equipment. They think they must have it all from the very beginning.)

4. Practice with newspapers/computers. Newspapers contain much more information than just local and national news and sports. A person should be able to look for jobs, find cars, find just about anything for sale, find the weather, find movies, find rummage sales, find stock quotes, and much more. Be sure your teen knows how to use the paper even if it is on the computer. Also remind them they may not always have a computer to use. Young people just starting out on their own often find out they need to make choices about purchases over time. A car might be needed before a computer.

5. Become familiar with building directories. Teens are generally quite comfortable navigating around the local mall, but they need to be equally comfortable in strange places, like a hospital or a large office complex. Being able to read and understand the building directory can be difficult. Go on some outings to a hospital or large office building and practice finding a particular office, the restrooms, or a cafeteria.

6. Make certain that they can read and interpret charts and graphs. As you come across various types of graphs in magazines, newspapers, online, etc., ask your teen to tell you what information is being presented, ask why that type of graph was used, ask why a graph was used at all rather than just explaining the information and so on. Be aware that teens especially need practice with the percents in circle graphs. They can tell which section of the circle is bigger, but not what value it indicates. They need help with this.

7. Practice using the phone book. Yes, I know your teen thinks he will never need to use one; but he does need to be aware of just how much information is in there. He should be able to locate emergency information, postal information, area codes, business section, yellow pages, maps, etc. As hard as it will be for him to believe, sometimes locating information is quicker with the phone book.

8. Take a field trip to a bank and learn about loans. (Make an appointment first and explain what you need.) The process of borrowing money can be confusing and frustrating, especially if low credit scores cause a denial of credit. Ask the loan officer to be very blunt with your child about the problems associated with bad credit. Many young adults dig themselves into a very deep financial hole very quickly.

9. Practice map reading. Only a small amount of attention is given to map reading in math classes except as an introduction to coordinate graphs. And students think they will have navigation systems, so who needs to read a map. (I have a new car with a navigation system that gets lost in Denver! When I need to go to Denver, I have to get out the map. If you've been to downtown Denver, you will understand the need for a map.) Necessary map skills include finding and understanding the legend, understanding and using the grid system, and being able to estimate distances.

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Being realistic with you, if your teen is a senior, he/she will probably think this is "stupid." So, if possible, start working with your teen during the freshman year. Even if your teen is a senior, remember that your active parenting days are declining in number very quickly, and these skills are important!

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