13 Survival Skills All 18 Year Olds Should Have: A Checklist for Parents

It is no secret that kids today are becoming increasingly less self-reliant, timid, and incredibly coddled.

I won’t go on an all-out tirade about how terrible the Millennial and Z Generation are. In many aspects, they have been very innovative and passionate.

But, as a parent in an era where helicopter parenting is the norm, I am concerned that our children are growing up completely lacking in survival skills.

True, I hope that my kids will never actually need these survival skills. But I still find it essential that they learn them for a few vital reasons.

  • Firstly, I sleep better at night, knowing my children know how to take care of themselves.
  • Secondly, I believe it is my responsibility as a parent to teach my children to take care of themselves, even if it means a few scratches and bruises along the way.
  • Thirdly (and most importantly), teaching children survival skills imbue them with confidence. This confidence then allows them to succeed in all areas of their lives. They say, “It’s a jungle out there…” and I want to ensure my kids are ready for it!

1. Lighting a Fire

By lighting a fire, I don’t just mean learning how to make a flame without matches or a lighter. Learning to use a Ferro rod, flint, or any other way to light a fire is undoubtedly important.

But many kids don’t even know how to get the fire lit.

Case point: I went camping with an adult neighbor who tried to use his lighter to ignite a branch the diameter of my thumb!

If an adult couldn’t light a fire, I’m guessing that most teens think “tinder” is just a dating site!

fire survival skills

2. Building a Fire

Fire is such an essential aspect of survival that I think it’s vital to list fire-building as a separate skill.

Building a fire is one of my favorite parts of camping outdoors. I find the act of arranging the tinder, kindling, and fuelwood very calming. I love to build up a beautiful structure.

The sad irony is that building fire comes naturally to kids. Give them a bunch of sticks and a brief lesson about airflow, and they’ll figure it out on their own.

Instead, we warn kids against the dangers of “playing with matches.”

Make sure your kids don’t lose out on essential survival skills because of overblown safety concerns. Teach them these 5 fire lays and their pros and cons.

  • Teepee fire lay
  • Star fire lay
  • Log cabin fire lay
  • Lean-to fire lay
  • Council fire lay
a frame fire lay

3. Navigation

I know that kids today are good at using GPS and navigation apps (which are admittedly things that still cause me problems – I suck at technology).   But give them a map and compass, and they will probably ask where to plug it in.

One UK survey found that 4 out of 5 young drivers can’t read a map. I doubt that kids in the USA are any wiser.

How do you teach kids map skills? One way is to take them orienteering. It’s fun, active, and an excellent way to get outdoors.

4. First Aid

If you were to suffer a heart attack suddenly, would your family be able to save you? According to one survey, probably not because only 18% of people know first aid.

In some countries (such as Germany and Switzerland), first aid is a requirement to get a driver’s license. I would love to see something like that enacted in the USA. If we are going to put kids behind deadly vehicles, we should also teach them how to save lives if necessary!

If you want your kids to learn first aid or improve your skills, read The First Aid Skills Everyone Should Know and this post about How to Take Your First Aid Skills to the Next Level.

5. How to Use a Knife

Ironically, if you do a Google search for “teach kids knife skills,” you only get a whole bunch of articles about how to teach toddlers to use utensils. Not what I had in mind!

There is a lot of debate about at what age it is okay to give a kid their first knife, but teach your kid to use a knife safely and they will have a skill for life.

6. Basic Self Defense

In the ideal world, we’d all be teaching our kids advanced self-defense skills like how to block a knife attack. Yet, I know this isn’t likely to happen. Sometimes, we have to prioritize ballet lessons over Krav Maga lessons!

At the very least, kids should know how to protect themselves. That stranger danger crap they teach at school isn’t cutting it. I feel better that my daughters know to kick a guy in the groin if he is attacking them!

7. Purifying Water

We don’t often think about it, but there is a long history behind water treatment. As early as 1852, all drinking water for London was filtered. Later on, cities began using chlorine to treat water.

Because of this and the fact that pretty much everyone in Western society has plumbing, today’s generation has grown up taking water for granted. No wonder they get so confused by boil alerts.

Teach your kids the importance of drinking water and how to clean it! We’ve talked about this a lot at Primal Survivor. Here are some great articles on the subject:

8. Locating a Suitable Campsite

Just find a flat spot and pitch your tent there, right?

Nope, many people die because of poorly chosen campsites.

9. Building a Shelter

Now that you have a suitable campsite, it is time to build a shelter on it.   I used to make all sorts of teepees and forts in the woods behind my house as a kid. Today, kids don’t have so much unsupervised playtime, and they certainly don’t get to go in the woods by themselves, so I’m guessing that they also aren’t learning to make shelters.

Recommended Reading: How to build a simple lean-to shelter

If your kids are still little, they will make shelters on their own. Just show them some pictures of survival shelters for inspiration, and they’ll figure it out. Later, you can give them mini-lessons on skills like rigging a tarp, tying knots, and lashing.

Teens usually aren’t so keen on making forts in the forest. If they are resistant, you might want to take them to an outdoor survival course.

a frame shelter

10. Food Acquisition

I hate survival “experts” like Bear Grylls because they make it seem like you should be biting the heads off of live insects to get food.

Umm… Why would anyone eat a live insect when you can COOK it? Not only will it taste better, but you’ll spare yourself a case of intestinal parasites and resulting diarrhea!

There are many ways to acquire food in the wilderness, and I don’t think kids necessarily need to know them all (I’m being realistic here). But kids should at least know a few ways to get food. Here are some of the basic skills in this area to teach them:

fishing weir trap

11. Tying a Bowline

We teach kids to tie their shoes in preschool. Why do we stop there?

There are a lot of reasons to learn to tie knots. There are practical purposes (like when you want to hang a swing). There are artistic purposes, like if your kids want to make their own jewelry. For sports, you often need to know how to tie knots.

And knot tying is also a great way to teach agility – physical and mental.

There are a lot of great knots to learn. At the very least, kids should know to tie the bowline since it is the “king of all knots.”

bowline knot instructions

12. Gardening

I’m excited that some city schools are starting to add gardening classes to the curriculum.

So, hopefully, this one will be an easy survival skill to check off. However, I think most kids will need a lot more work on this aspect before they produce their own food!

13. How Not to Panic

This might be the most essential survival skill your kids should know. And it is the one that Millennials are severely lacking!

When a problem arises, the reaction is to run to some authority figure to solve it.

When no authority figure exists to fix the problem, they panic.

I teach my kids not to panic by using what I call the Problem-Solution Approach.

Here’s how it goes:

Something terrible happens (like a toy breaking).

Panic (they start to cry).

I tell them to identify the problem.

I ask them, “Does crying solve the problem?”

What are some possible solutions to the issue (fix the toy)?

Only when we’ve gone through multiple potential solutions and none work, do I say it is okay to start crying.

After all, not all toys can be fixed, and tears over loss are acceptable – they just aren’t suitable as a first-line emotional response to problems!

What survival skills do you think are most important for kids to know?

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  1. Cooking over a fire is a great skill, but how about “how to cook in a kitchen”? Most of the current kids [and many adults] won’t be eating anything hot unless it is microwaved. Schools used to teach basic cooking, but only to girls.
    I think a good/great course for them to add would be “Life Skills” for BOTH genders – basic cooking, how to budget, taking care of a car [as much as they can with cars having computers but changing oil, adding windshield washing fluid, and anti-freeze are still possible], how to make a bed [many women say “It’s just easier for me to do it (my Mom’s comment on teaching chores)], having a bank account, filing taxes, taking care of an apartment [kids HAVE to live with Mom after graduation since they don’t know anything else]. Basic carpentry skills and maintaining appliances would be good if there is enough time in the school year.

  2. My Dad taught my sister and I how to change a tire. He said, “I can’t see you girls being stranded because you don’t know how to change a tire. If worst comes to worst – drive on it. A tire rim is replaceable, you are NOT.”
    When I was in my early 30’s, I had to change the tire on a toll road. Just as I finished the state police stopped by and asked if I needed help. I said “No, I just finished.” He said, “Finished what?” “Changing the tire.” He looked at me astonished and said, “YOU changed a tire?” “Sure, my dad taught me.” He was dumfounded. Course, that was 40 years ago. But the lesson is still valid.

    • You’ve got a good attitude about the experience. I get annoyed when men assume that I can’t do something because I’m a woman. But, then again, a lot of women are never taught important skills like changing a tire. Good thing your dad had the right mindset. 🙂

  3. Great article. I know teenagers that can’t tell time unless it’s digital, or they think a quarter after the hour means 25 after.

  4. Good article, but there are so many important things that can be added, especially for the children that will spend outdoors as a part of their future careers. For example, careers in working with wildlife in a remote forest would require more than just the basic skills, as anything can and will go wrong. We need to teach our children to live beyond the concrete jungle. Articles such as these are helpful in our efforts to create the first fully digital career guidance system!


  6. Sadly the BSA used to teach survival skills back when I was in 40+ years ago. Then this so called tree hugger BS started and that all went out the window. I grew up learning how to handle myself alone in the woods that it was never a scary place. It was always a place of wonder and learning/practicing skills. Kids these days have been handed a load of BS about how things are.

    • Nothing to do with tree huggers. Electronics, lack of safe wooded areas for kids to go, pampered by parents…

  7. Never mind map reading; how about change a tire? I doubt you’d be amazed (but I bet you’d be disappointed) to learn how many under 18’s can’t do this. There is a diminishing familiarity with hand tools in the younger generations. This is appropriate as less jobs require it, but it’s still a survival skill. Just basic things can give your kids a huge edge. How to turn of the water or gas to a toilet/sink/house, how to fix a bike, how to hook up a propane tank, saw and split firewood, solder/seal a copper/pvc pipe, and so on and so forth. Your kids won’t be able to solve survival problems if they have no idea how to implement their solutions.


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