Life Skills We Really Need to Stop Teaching Our Children

We all want our kids to grow up happy, healthy, and successful, but it’s a hard line to walk. Some parents, teachers, and even society teach children lessons just because they learned them as kids, or because it seems like “the thing to do.” We rounded up a list of lessons our kids can do without.

1. Cleaning your plate

Children eating their snacks

Children should learn to eat until they feel full. | Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

What seems like nurturing may actually serve as an invitation to an eventual weight problem, according to Ximena Jimenez, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That especially applies if you pile your kids’ plate with the same portions as the adults at the table.

Redditor Thepowerrunner had an especially unpleasant experience with the “clean plate club.” “I remember at school once my dad put a sharing bag of chocolates in my lunchbox with the intention that I’d share them with the other kids,” they reported. “None of the other kids wanted any, and the [lunch] lady made me sit and eat every last one because the school had a policy that all kids had to finish all their lunch.” Instead, teach your children to eat until they feel full, to set up a lifetime of healthier habits.

Next: While not exactly a lesson, American society needs to get away from this norm.

2. Binge drinking

Creative exotic alcoholic cocktails in bar

Watch out for instilling unhealthy alcohol habits. | Milkos/Getty Images

According to the Alcohol Rehab Guide, binge drinking ranks most common in individuals ages 26 and older. That age group accounts for roughly 70% of all binge drinking episodes. While binge drinking does not necessarily mean a person has a substance addiction, it can lead to unhealthy drinking habits. BuzzNFrog noted that binge drinking “is not a thing to be proud of … And by the way, it’s way cheaper if you get buzzed from just two beers. It’s nothing to look down on.” Save money and your health: Drink in moderation.

Next: In our perpetually stressed-out society, we could all use a step back.

3. Living in a constant state of stress

Young attractive stressed woman lying down on a pile of clothes

You do not need to feel stressed all the time. | NinaMalyna/ Getty Images

MoustachioedMan pointed out that we do not all need to live in a constant state of stress. “For everyone reading this, please prioritize your needs,” he wrote. “Your life will change for the better. It is possible!” The American Psychological Association reports that chronic, elevated stress levels can lead to heart problems, anxiety disorders, and even delay recovery from illness. Consider slowing down and de-stressing: Your health might depend on it.

Next: In the age of #MeToo, this one should sound like a no-brainer.

4. Pick-up lines

Young woman making rude gesture on a bad date

Pickup lines are not the way to go if you want a good date. |

Ultra_casual had some choice words for users of pick-up lines. “Seriously, stop it. It is literally teaching you how to not be yourself when meeting someone, and treat them like an object or the goal in some game rather than a person.” Not only that, but pick-up lines can make a person look insecure, or worse, predatory. Instead, think of some good conversation-starters that let the object of your affection feel like less of an object.

Next: This unit of measurement should go the way of the dinosaur.

5. Imperial units

carpenter taking measurement

Why do we use the imperial system? |

The United States uses imperial units, a slight twist on the English system, instead of the metric system for measuring. The Atlantic explains that the U.S. initially stuck to the system because of manufacturing concerns — factories did not want to overhaul their equipment to use new measurements. But a standard system would allow scientists, engineers, and other manufacturers to communicate more smoothly worldwide. And some experts think it will happen, by slowly integrating the metric system into our own.

Next: Many of us make this mistake, but we don’t have to.

6. Pushing our bodies too far

group of friends or sportsmen exercising

For children especially, pushing too hard has dire consequences. |

According to The New York Times, young people pushing themselves too far in athletics poses a lifelong problem. Mark Hyman cites statistics in his book Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids. He writes, “Every year more than 3.5 million children under 15 require medical treatment for sports injuries, nearly half of which are the result of simple overuse.” Too often, Hyman found, adults push students to higher achievement, instead of focusing on having fun and staying healthy.

The pediatrics council recommends that young players take “at least one to two days off per week from competitive athletics, sport-specific training and competitive practice (scrimmage) to allow them to recover both physically and psychologically.” Parents: Don’t push students to play through the pain. It can have lifelong consequences.

Next: This writing became passe when typing turned into the norm.

7. Cursive

Little girl writing in classroom

Do you ever use cursive? Neither do our children. |

As ElectricNudibranch points out, “The ‘pro-cursive’ crowd is extremely vocal about this but can never give a good reason for continuing to use it.” Anne Trubek, author of The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, said schools should not require cursive any more than playing a musical instrument. “I think students would all benefit from learning the piano,” she said, “but I don’t think schools should require all students take piano lessons.” While benefits may exist, particularly in the areas of dexterity, cursive is no longer necessary in the modern world.

Next: The next norm results in some seriously awkward photos.

8. Forced smiles

Smiling with curiosity and sincerity while having a phone call

Do not force your children to smile. You know how that feels. |

Not only can everyone tell the difference between a fake and a real smile, faking it actually might hurt your mental health. According to researchers, faking a smile serves as detrimental to overall happiness. People who smile genuinely, even less often, reported feeling more satisfied and happier with their lives. Those forced grins also make photographs look pretty terrible. Redditor and photographer Wallab42 said it drives them crazy. “I think a lot of it comes from vain parents commenting and correcting their kids smiles.” Don’t force it, parents. You’ll get better photos and happier kids.

Next: Let’s stop using this next one as a bargaining chip.

9. Dessert as a reward

Shaved Ice dessert with milk

Teach your children to enjoy sweets in moderation. | Ruengdet/Getty Images

MindBodyGreen notes that using desserts as a reward sets kids up for unhealthy eating patterns. A lot of parents make their children finish their dinner before getting dessert, or use sweets as a reward for good behavior. While it does work in the short term, that method teaches them that sweets mean treats, and can lead to binge eating, sugar fixation, and general lack of self-control around sugary foods. Instead, practice moderation with sweet foods and do not attach morality to them for healthier habits.

Next: We may not teach this lesson on purpose, but it comes through anyway.

10. It’s OK to cheat

a wal-mart employee adjusts a sign ahead of Black Friday

Have you ever gotten a lower price than listed? Watch what that teaches your children. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Have you ever let a store clerk charge you too little for an item, or neglected to point out a mistake on a bill that worked out in your favor? This kind of behavior, while it may not seem like a big deal, teaches kids that dishonesty does not matter.

Today contributor Ruth Peters points out that kids know right from wrong, but get confused by “little white lies.” “The next time you consider trying to talk your way out of receiving a traffic ticket, telling a telephone solicitor that you’re just the babysitter or lying about your kid’s age to get the reduced rate ticket at Disney World, reconsider!” Peters advised. “It’s hypocritical at best and can be downright harmful. The lesson of ‘Do what I say but not what I do’ just doesn’t cut it when trying to teach kids honesty and truthfulness.”

Next: This lesson also teaches kids — girls especially — something about their worth.

11. The Prince Charming effect

belle and a man dancing in disney

Prince Charming teaches some dangerous ideas to children. | Matt Stroshane/Disney via Getty Images

As The Odyssey notes, the Prince Charming in so many Disney movies teaches kids that they must find “the one” for true happiness. However, many adults know that does not ring true. While fantasizing does not automatically rank as wrong, it should not fill the frame. Young people should learn that heartbreak, failed relationships, and even flying solo all just make up a full life and not finding your prince does not make you a failure.

Next: We need to teach kids that going it alone can be OK.

12. Love as the only key to happiness

woman loves her dog

A lot of things can fulfill a person’s life other than a relationship. | Manuel-F-O/Getty Images

If you have ever heard the question, “are you seeing anyone?” at family gatherings, you know how hurtful it can be. Children who watch these interactions may assume that relationships and personal worth are intertwined. But Psychology Today says that does not have to be the case. While love comes with many benefits, it does not solve all problems either, and can contribute to them, too. Teach kids that they have worth in and of themselves — not because of who they’re with.

Next: We may sound old when we say this next one.

13. Overreliance on technology

Business class picture taken in studio.

Children and constant technology do not always mix. | manfeiyang/iStock/Getty Images

These days, kids cannot escape technology, nor should they. But we should not ignore the dangers of constantly plugging in. According to The New York Times, In the early 2000s, Duke University economists tracked the academic progress of nearly one million disadvantaged middle-school students against the dates they received networked computers. The researchers assessed the students’ math and reading skills annually for five years, and recorded how they spent their time.

“Students who gain access to a home computer between the 5th and 8th grades tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math scores,” the economists wrote, adding that license to surf the Internet also resulted in lower grades in younger children. The remedy? Get your kids outside, encourage creative play, and unplug for some hours each day. Their brains will thank you.

Next: Kids should value school for other benefits than this one.

14. Do well in school just to get into a ‘good’ college

School classroom

School has other benefits in addition to college admission. | maroke/iStock/Getty Images

While college does often lead to better earning and quality of life overall, students should get more out of their primary and secondary education than an acceptance letter. Many jobs — good ones — do not even require a degree, although we are socialized to expect they do. A study by Harvard Business School and others found that in 2015, 67% of production-supervisor job postings asked for a college degree. Only 16% of employed production supervisors had one. “We’ve trundled into an over-academicized form of higher education,” says economist Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the deputy prime minister of Singapore.

Instead, students should focus on learning in school, and not just hard skills like adding and reading. School teaches socialization, logic and reasoning, and other important aspects that do not show up on paper. If students — and especially administrators — focused more on those, kids would emerge much happier.

Next: This last one harms LGBT kids especially.

15. That gender dictates what they can do

Toys for Tots collections

Be careful about the messages toys send. | Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Toys”R”Us

Teaching children that their given gender limits their capabilities has long-term effects, and it starts with their toys. National Geographic writes about the harm it causes. A 2015 study found that boys rank as more likely than girls to play with toys that develop spatial intelligence — K’nex, puzzles, Lego bricks. According to study author Jamie Jirout, marketing carries a lot of the blame. The girl-oriented product line Lego Friends focuses on make-believe rather than construction, and the colors make it abundantly clear which toys are for who.

“Spatial skills are a piece of the explanation for the underrepresentation of women in science and tech,” says Jirout. Informal activities like play help develop those skills. She said they are “not only important for math and science but for what we call ‘executive function’—higher-level thinking.” Give your kids gender-neutral toys, and you may even affect their future careers.

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