Beyond the Classroom

Are We Doing Enough to Prepare Our Children for Life?

I have tremendous Hakaras Hatov to the schools and Yeshivas my children attended throughout the years for all that they have done for them. They were instilled with a genuine love for Yiddishkeit, a strong foundation of Torah learning, and solid Hashkafas. The Rebbeim & teachers are truly the unsung heroes of our generation. Gemarah, Mishnayos, Halacha, Chumash, Navi, Mussar, Jewish history, American history, geography, math, and science, and the list continues. The students learn to write complicated essays and term papers and have many different assignments and projects. The pressure to excel academically takes a real toll on our children, and for what end? All that learning is truly impressive, but is it preparing them for life’s challenges and the real world?

As a mother, dating coach, and shadchan, I see firsthand how many young men and women finish school lacking essential life skills and the impact it has on their personal and professional lives. Many students graduate high school without the basic skills needed to thrive in the real world, yet are expected to start dating, marry, raise a family, and build careers. For some, these skills come naturally. For most, however, these skills need to be taught and practiced. While many of these skills are taught by example from parents, having a class taught by professionals in the field and practiced with peers can go a long way. Along with scholastic knowledge, students need practical skills to help them navigate life’s many challenges.

Here are nine life skills I think should be taught in every school alongside traditional academics:

  • Financial Affairs: I remember the first time I got a job and was asked to fill out a W-4 form, I had no clue what that was. Students should be taught the basics of how to manage their finances, create a budget, balance a checkbook, and pay bills and taxes. They should be prepared to understand credit, manage debt, and invest in the future. A typical attitude is, “When they need to do it, they will figure it out.” This is faulty thinking. Preparing them in advance will help them avoid financial problems in the future. I wish I had been taught these skills in school!
  • Time Management: This is such a crucial skill to have. Many students graduate high school, marry, have jobs, and pursue higher education.  Time management skills can help them balance work, school, and personal responsibilities by learning to prioritize tasks, set goals, and develop a routine that works for them. Another skill that would have benefitted me greatly over the years. (And still would!)
  • Social Skills: I should have put this one first; it is that important. Why wait until our children have grown and are now in situations such as dating and being out in the workforce to teach them these essential skills? There should be classes teaching them how to make small talk, read social cues, maintain eye contact, and interact effectively and appropriately with people in different social situations. They should also be taught the art of listening and having deeper conversations which are crucial to cultivating all types of relationships.
  • Proper Etiquette: I cringe when I think about this one because of how often I see inappropriate behavior, dress, speech, and table manners. Social etiquette varies depending on the context, the formality of the occasion, the relationship between the people involved, and the cultural background. The purpose of these social “rules” is to help people easily navigate social situations. Following dress codes, using polite language, being punctual, knowing what’s appropriate to speak about, and having table manners are some examples of good social etiquette.
  • Cooking: We all know the joke about the young kallah who didn’t know how to boil water. It would be nice if all the girls were gourmet chefs before they got married, but that is not what I mean. I am not talking about learning how to cook a 5-course dinner. Students should be taught about meal planning, shopping with a budget, food prep, proper food storage, and how to put together a well-balanced meal. How many girls get married and don’t know the basics? Yes, you can learn on the job, but isn’t it better to be prepared in advance?
  • Basic First Aid and CPR: This needs no explanation.Medical emergencies can happen to anyone, anywhere. Learning basic first aid and CPR can save a life.
  • Career Options: Many young girls and boys are confused about what they want to do when they “grow up.” Students should learn about the many different career choices and businesses a person can have. Is going to college and earning a degree the right path for them? Often people are influenced towards certain career choices, whether by family or society, and ultimately are unhappy. They might have chosen differently if they had learned about the many traditional careers or more out-of-the-box ones. Remember, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It is also good to teach them interview skills, negotiating skills, and how to write a proper work resume.
  •  Conflict Resolution: If schools only taught one thing from this list (but really, they should teach all), it should be conflict resolution! In life, there will always be conflict. At work, with your children and spouse. It can’t be avoided. The key is knowing how to resolve your differences calmly and effectively. Good conflict resolution includes active listening, patience, and open communication.
  • Shalom Bayis: Last but certainly not least, is giving the girls and boys classes on Shalom Bayis. This is important for the children who come from homes where Shalom Bayis is lacking, but also for the children from homes where Shalom Bayis is paramount.

Some of the things we should teach them about are:

  • Having mutual respect
  • Not to sweat the small stuff
  • To have patience with each other
  • Forgiveness
  • Understand each other’s differences
  • How marriage is not 50-50, but each gives a 100%.
  • It is we, not I
  • Having realistic expectations.
  • Healthy Boundaries
  • Effective communication

How many of you got married and wish you had learned these lessons before you walked down to the chuppah?

Let’s make sure our children are better prepared and equipped to tackle the challenges of life and the real world.

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