Teaching our youth about decision making

December 28, 2009

by Jenni Sebora

As our children grow, their independence does, too. That can be difficult for us as parents. We want them to be more independent; that is just a natural part of growing up. Independence also means that our children need us in different ways.

Our children grow into preteens and teenagers and eventually, adults. They no longer need our constant supervision, and although babies, toddlers, and preschoolers need our physical presence more, letting go of this can be hard for us as parents.

Our children need to be able to make decisions and sometimes, the decisions are not always right. It can be difficult to watch our children make mistakes and get hurt. But it is our job to teach them about responsible decision making. It does not mean they don’t need us; they just need us in different ways. We need to teach, guide, monitor and support our children as they grow into independent people.

The University of Minnesota Extension Service and the University of Wisconsin-Extension put out a parenting handout regarding “The Seven Steps to Responsible Decision Making,” 1999.

The first step is to determine the problem and clarify the issue. Negotiate guidelines. Think about questions and issues that can come up.

Gather and examine current information is the second step. Our teen and we, as the parents, need to identify what is important to each of us. Identify the non-negotiable things. We need to share our thoughts and feelings with each other.

The third step of this process is to examine alternative courses of action. Brainstorm possible courses of action.

Examine the possible likely consequences. List the pros and cons of each course of action.

Discuss feelings and moral considerations, as well as what society may think is acceptable behavior. This handout reminds us that the goal is to allow our teen to influence his or her own responsible decisions. Legal rules may need to be explained to our teen, and consequences and items that are not negotiable may have to be established between us and them.

When the above steps have been completed, it is time to make a decision on the best possible course of action. Writing down the decision and consequences may be a good idea for referring back to if needed.

Evaluating the outcome is the final step. Did the decision accomplish what he or she wanted it to? What will she or he do differently if the problem arises again?

This process seems very formal, but teaching our teens and preteens about decision making and helping them make responsible decisions requires trust and patience on our part. We can’t expect our teens to make the right decisions without some guidance from us. Our children may still make some wrong decisions, but that may be part of the process, too. We need to continue to guide them and teach them.

Communicating with our teens is vital. Talking and listening is extremely important. Transferring decision making from us to them is part of the growing-up process.

Quote: “Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.” – H. Jackson Browne, Jr.