Former Stanford dean shares the 8 skills everyone should have by age 18

(with commentary by Camp Lonehollow)


This post from Julie Lythcott-Haims originally appeared on Quora as an answer to the question "What are the skills every 18-year-old needs?". Additional commentary on how camp helps courtesy of Camp Lonehollow.


1. An 18-year-old must be able to talk to strangers

The crutch: We commonly teach our kids not to talk to strangers instead of teaching the more nuanced skill of how to discern the few bad strangers from the mostly good ones. Thus, kids end up not knowing how to approach strangers — respectfully and with eye contact — for the help, guidance, and direction they will need out in the world.


How camp helps: Every Wednesday and Saturday during picnic, campers practice how to approach an adult, look them in the eye, and ask politely for what they need. They may just be asking for candy or a soda, but the repetition and practice make the skill stick!


2. An 18-year-old must be able to find his way around

The crutch: We drive or accompany our children everywhere, even when a bus, their bicycle, or their own feet could get them there; thus, kids don't know the route for getting from here to there, how to cope with transportation options and snafus, when and how to fill the car with gas, or how to make and execute transportation plans.


How camp helps: We have all been a first-time camper; it takes a little time to find your way around. Campers learn to manage their time allotted to get from place to place, how to ask for directions, and become familiar with their surroundings. After the first few days, 3,000 acres doesn’t seem as daunting!


3. An 18-year-old must be able to manage his assignments, workload, and deadlines

The crutch: We remind kids when their homework is due and when to do it — sometimes helping them do it, sometimes doing it for them; thus, kids don't know how to prioritize tasks, manage workload, or meet deadlines, without regular reminders.


How camp helps: As campers grow through their camp experience, they take on more responsibilities. For example, after their final full camper year, campers can join Work Crew as an incoming 11th grader. Work Crew spends half of their time as a camper in activities and the other half in various camp jobs. They can apply to work in the Office, Camp Store, or Post Office, to assist in classes with younger campers, and shadow Department Heads around camp. They take on more responsibility and get a behind the scenes look at all that goes into helping camp run.


4. An 18-year-old must be able to contribute to the running of a household

The crutch: We don't ask them to help much around the house because the ‘checklisted childhood’ leaves little time in the day for anything aside from academic and extracurricular work; thus, kids don't know how to look after their own needs, respect the needs of others, or do their fair share for the good of the whole.


How camp helps: In the cabin, it is up to everyone to make sure the living space stays clean and tidy. Campers and counselors pitch in by doing daily chores, helping set the table for meals, and taking care of their own belongings. Additionally, each cabin creates a Cabin Constitution at the beginning of camp. The campers brainstorm, collaborate, and agree upon a set of guidelines. Everyone then signs the Cabin Constitution to symbolize their agreement to follow the guidelines.


5. An 18-year-old must be able to handle interpersonal problems

The crutch: We step in to solve misunderstandings and soothe hurt feelings for them; thus, kids don't know how to cope with and resolve conflicts without our intervention.


How camp helps: We realize that when you’re living in close quarters with others, there will be some conflict. Our counselors are trained during Orientation on how to help resolve conflicts. Facilitated by our staff, Guides encourage campers to talk through their issues together and teach them that, above all, respect is key.


6. An 18-year-old must be able to cope with ups and downs

The crutch: We step in when things get hard, finish the task, extend the deadline, and talk to the adults; thus, kids don't know that in the normal course of life things won't always go their way, and that they'll be okay regardless.


How camp helps: Camp can give the gift of success, as well as the gift of failure. Not everyone who runs for a leadership position in their Crew will make it, not everyone who applies to be a Trailblazer will be picked, and you may be worse at some activities than you are at others. What camp helps campers understand it’s okay! Everyone excels in different areas.


7. An 18-year-old must be able to earn and manage money

The crutch: They don't hold part-time jobs; they receive money from us for whatever they want or need; thus, kids don't develop a sense of responsibility for completing job tasks, accountability to a boss who doesn't inherently love them, or an appreciation for the cost of things and how to manage money.


How camp helps: Included in your camper’s tuition is an amount for his/her camp store account. This isn’t just for spending at his discretion however. Allotted in this amount is money for laundry and any additional class charges (ex. ceramics supplies, etc.), and then what is left can be used in the camp store. Campers have to budget for their time at camp and make sure they’ll have enough to last their whole stay. Our Store staff members help campers keep track of their accounts and update them on their remaining balance.


8. An 18-year-old must be able to take risks

The crutch: We've laid out their entire path for them and have avoided all pitfalls or prevented all stumbles for them; thus, kids don't develop the wise understanding that success comes only after trying and failing and trying again (a.k.a. "grit") or the thick skin (a.k.a. "resilience") that comes from coping when things have gone wrong.


How camp helps: Trying new activities. Making new friends. Applying for a leadership role. Speaking publicly in front of their peers and parents. Interacting with people from all over the world. Camp is a safe place to step out of your comfort zone and tackle new experiences. With an occasional helping hand from staff, it’s amazing how much a camper can discover about themselves in two weeks. Campers learn how to overcome challenges and develop skills that will stick with them for years.


Originally appeared in Julie Lythcott-Haims’ book "How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success" (Henry Holt & Co., 2015).

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