Teaching our Teens to Make Good Decisions

By Mike Burns Posted May 20, 2014 under Guest Authors

It won’t take much convincing to get you to admit that being a teen isn’t easy. And it certainly isn’t easy being the parent of a teen! But why exactly is it so tough? 

Well, I definitely can’t address all of the reasons in one blog post, but I can suggest one: Teens are making decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

As parents, we know this is true. And our kids feel the weight of that pressure.

For me personally, it’s one of the strangest ironies of the human experience. We make some of the most long-lasting decisions about our lives during the years when we’re the most tormented with harsh insecurities, raging hormones and developing minds. 

The decisions that our teens make during these years will have an impact on their entire future. We know this is true. So we do our best to protect them. And we should.

Should we develop a healthy relationship with them, personally? Yes.
Should we protect them from things they aren’t yet ready to handle? Yes.
Should we monitor their friendships and activities? Yes.

But that’s not enough. We won’t always be there. So, what do we do? We have to help them get better at making good decisions on their own.

Here are three ideas on how to do that:

Consistently remind them that every decision has consequences.

In our family, the word “consequences” comes up often. In fact, I’d be surprised if we didn’t use it every single day in some form or another. It’s important that our kids know that every choice they make leads to something else. Those consequences may be good, bad or indifferent. But they will come. This helps to combat the apathetic approach to decision-making that is so common during the teen years. It helps them be a bit more sober-minded. I’m not recommending that we make everything depressing or hyper-serious. We just have to make sure they know their decisions today affect their surroundings tomorrow. It’s a huge lesson in self-preservation if they can learn to think about tomorrow’s happiness. 

Expose them to both positive and negative examples.

Talking about it isn’t enough. They need to see it lived out in front of them. So, as parents, we can do our best to make sure they actually see those consequences for good and bad choices. A great way to do this on a laid-back scale is through the movies that you watch. When you’re watching a movie with them and something happens in the film that illustrates the good that comes when you make a good decision, pause the movie and point it out. Be careful not to be obnoxious. But even if they roll their eyes, you still got your point across. And that’s not wasted effort. 

The same is true about negative behavior. Show them videos about what happens to people who get involved in drugs. Sometimes, the images we see in the music and movie industry glorify drugs and make it seem like “everyone’s doing it.” We have to make sure we put the other side of those decisions in front of our teens so that they know it’s not all that it seems. They need to know about those people who are choosing a different route.

Give them opportunities to “practice”.

So, we’ve talked about it and illustrated it. Now it’s time to give them some hands-on experience. Obviously, we don’t want to put our teens in situations where a bad decision would be critical. But we DO need to find opportunities for them to “spread their decision-making wings” and practice. Allowing them to make decisions where the stakes are a little lower and then face the consequences of them on their own is tough, but necessary. They have to be prepared for the big decisions when they come. If we don’t let go a little now, we may hurt them with the big stuff. Obviously, we should stay on top of what’s going on and then coach them through it, but the decisions should be left up to them. 

These can be small things like letting them schedule a get-together with their friends. Let them plan out the timing, what food they’ll eat, the activities, when they’ll watch a movie, etc. If they forget to plan to buy buns for the hot dogs, let them. Eating hot dogs with no buns might motivate them to put more thought into it next time. If they forget to bring the DVD, so be it. This may seem a bit harsh, but we’ve got to help them develop from the inside. 

If we want our teens to be able to say “no” to the things that can damage their future, we have to help them become strong decision-makers. Talk about it, show it and give them chances to try it.

Mike Burns is a father-of-six that lives in Phoenix, AZ. He blogs about living well and focusing on what's most important at theothersideofcomplexity.com.  He and his wife, Jen, also write about intentional parenting at sotheycanfly.com. You can connect with Mike on Twitter (@mikemikeburns) and Facebook (facebook.com/theothersideofcomplexity; facebook.com/sotheycanfly).