How To Help Teens Learn Decision Making Skills

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Where’s that parenting manual when you need it most?

Whether you have one child or 19, like my husband’s grand grand mother did, it doesn’t take long to realize that parenting is the toughest and most rewarding endeavor you will ever take on in life.

I was in circle of mothers today discussing how to help teens make responsible decisions and not freak out. It’s tough to hand over a task that you have been solely responsible for in your child’s life. However, as teens grow up and begin to take control of their life, it is important to remember:

1. You have been preparing them for this event each day of their life. They are excited to have the opportunity to put what they have learned into practice.

2. They may still need your guidance but they also need your support and belief that the can handle what you have trained them to do. They want your trust more than they want to disappoint you.

3. They are going to make mistakes. Goodness, few adults get it right every single time. They are also going to make some choices that you wish they wouldn’t make. This is disappointing…in fact, the first time they do, it’s down right disappointing -even heart breaking. Most adults are wiser than they were in their teen years so the odds are they will become healthy, well adjusted adults like you did. (Are you rolling your eyes as you think of some of the possibilities?)

Keeping the above mentioned in mind, how can we help our teens make good choices? Wise decisions? Fewer mistakes?

Decision making is an important life skill. Without that parenting manual, we struggle answering the above questions in a way that leaves peace in our hearts. I took the “because I said so” attitude. Realising that approach wasn’t as effective as I had pictured in my mind quite frankly freaked me out.

Helping teens learn to make decisions will impact their life for years to come. Let’s look at 6 of the most important decisions teens will make and 6 habits they can develop to help them navigate this new skill.

Sean Covey in his book, The 6 Most Important Decisions You Will Ever Make, discusses decisions that are most familiar to teens. (This is not a sponsored post, I think this is a great resource). These include:

1. School – what are you going to do about your education?
2. Friends – what kind of friends will you choose and what kind of friend will you be?
3. Parents – what kind of relationship will you have with your parents?
4. Dating & Sex- who will you date and what will you do about sex?
5. Addictions – what will you do about smoking, drinking, drugs, and other addictive stuff?
6. Self-Worth – will you choose to like yourself?

My husband and I have 5 children between us. The teens years were maddening at times. We discovered early on in their teen years that each child had his or her own philosophy and approach to life. Many times, they made different choices than we would have made. Thus far, they have all survived each choice and learned from them. Actually, we are very proud of the people they have become but with each of the above areas, each child developed their own way of deciding how to answer those questions. We have rejoiced with them in good decisions and cried with them in not so good decisions.

In order to make effective decisions teens need to prepare and understand key habits they will need in their life-skill tool box.

1. Become proactive. This skill/habit is about being prepared, thinking rather than reacting and developing a plan for how to approach choices when they are presented. Choices need to be based on things the teen can control, not things he/she can not control. They need to learn the value of self-control. What I mean by this is that they don’t want to hand control of their life to someone or something else. Some choices in life can remove their decision making power. Deciding to drink and drive puts control of their life in the hands of the courts. They loose control.

2. What are the principles I will live my life by? Principles are the standards we use in our human interactions- things like honesty, trust, patience, humor, service, love, compassion, charity, freedom, wisdom, fairness, and justice. It takes courage to live by principles. Principles are the key to doing well in all areas of life. Building a solid foundation of principles serves as a compass when making difficult decisions. If your teen understands the principles they want to live by, conflicting decisions are easier to disregard.

3. Understanding what is most important to you and learning to do those things first. Successful living is dependant on making important things happen, in order of priority and putting off/delaying less important tasks. Is your education a higher priority than wasting time playing video games? Practicing this skill helps teens to begin to self regulate their time based on the principles they have set for themselves above.

4. Find the win-win. In business, my husband likes to look for what he calls the win-win for each party involved. He says this means not everyone gets everything they wanted but no one loses out completely either. The concept is that we work together with the best outcome for each person in mind. Listening skills, healthy compromising/negotiating skills and mutual respect are imperative and effective.

5. Celebrate differences. There are times when sharing strengths with others to make something better than we can do alone proves very beneficial. In sports, the differing skills to play each position makes a team unbeatable. Learning to value differences in others to aid us in areas of life that we are weak in provides us with resources, wisdom, and support. This skill/habit will help teens deal with the “I know it all” attitudes. Respecting what others have to contribute can help teens see dangers ahead, develop better skills and improve abilities to reach desired goals.

Teens long for the opportunity to begin making some life decisions for themselves. They need your affirmation as they take the responsibility seriously and thoughtfully. Keep talking with them. Communication is about listening as well as instructing/teaching/talking but should not include criticism. Discuss the issue and leave personal attacks concerning ability to make the decision the-way-you-would out of the picture. Share why you have the principles you have. Share examples of how sticking with your principles has proven a good thing and abandoning them went badly. For teens who still live at home, you may have non-negotiable house rules but find other ways to allow some independence. Finally, love them. Make sure they always know that home is a safe-haven and refuge even when accountability is not comfortable.

I always told my children that making adult decisions came with adult rewards and consequences. Deciding to take the responsibility is a big decision in itself. When they make those decisions they must be prepared to accept the responsibility without reverting back to childish expectations like expecting the parent to handle it for them if it goes wrong. This can be heart breaking for both parent and teen. They must understand what their decision will mean for their over all life goals.

Do you have any additional advice you could offer? Let’s synergize! Let’s hear what worked for you – just use the comments below.

I can’t wait to hear your suggestions!

3 thoughts on “How To Help Teens Learn Decision Making Skills

  1. You’ve made many wonderful points here. As a momma that’s raised 2 teens successfully & am working on finishing up teens 3, 4, & 5 I think this is well written, solid advice! Great job 🙂


    • I appreciate your kind comment. You will have your hands full with three teens. I’m sure you are already aware if the rewards of your labours of love with two successfully raised children. It’s a bit like child birth, once they are grown and living well, the former pain of the teen years is overshadowed by the new parent/adult child relationship. Well done! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts with me. Have a great day!

      Liked by 1 person

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