How to Help Your Teen Make Tough Decisions

What should I do? Where do I go from here? What should I eat? Should I take this road or that one, or something completely different? I have heard these words from my kids a lot through the years. In fact, I heard something similar to this yesterday from my oldest child.

Making decisions can be hard for a lot of people, depending on the gravity of the consequences resulting from that decision. Life altering decisions obviously require more time and effort than, say, where to eat dinner.

(I will say that where to eat dinner has caused more angst than you would believe. A family of five will have four different ideas on where to go. Dad is always just happy with anything. We love Dad.)

If you are the parent of more than one child, you have probably noticed that even though your children might be products of the same gene pool, their personalities, preferences, demeanors, and overall state of being are vastly different. One is an introvert. One is an extrovert. One is serious. One is a free spirit. One is determined. One is laid back. One makes decisions easily. One does not.

When my two older kids were little, their personality differences were glaring, and still are. Jacquelyn had a lot of trouble making decisions when she was presented with multiple options. She became overwhelmed, and needed a lot of time to make up her mind.

I learned early on that when we went toy shopping, or souvenir shopping on vacation, to give her plenty of time to decide what she wanted to buy with her money, and not to rush her. She has always been very careful about her spending, even as a child, and wanted to be sure she got exactly what she wanted. It took some time. Sometimes it took A LOT of time. But patience is a virtue, and a necessity when parenting such a thorough and deliberate child.

Graham, however, was the polar opposite. We even joke about it now. The toy shopping experience with Graham was a 180 degree turn around from what it was with his older sister. He would go into the store, make a bee-line for what he wanted, and be finished paying before Jacquelyn hardly even began to look around.

(Incidentally, this has been excellent preparation for him for married life. He has learned over the course of many years how to be infinitely patient with the females who constitute his world.)

This phenomenon was actually comical to witness. Fortunately for both of them, their habits have become a bit more moderated now. Jacquelyn maintains that she makes fewer mistakes and has fewer regrets by being the way she is. I have to agree. The funny thing is that Andrea is somewhere in between.  Each has his or her own unique way of handling the process of decision-making.

Making decisions is hard even for adults. So how do we help our teens when they are faced with such tough decisions as where to go to college, whether they even want to go to college, what career to choose, or even how they might want to earn some extra cash to save for a car?

Sometimes the decisions are less pleasant than those listed above. Some decisions have more dire consequences, such as whether to allow alcohol, drugs, or sex to stage a hostile takeover of their young lives. If you have a good, close, and open relationship with your teen that you have been nurturing for several years, the odds of such bad decisions by your teen go down significantly. Still, it can happen in spite of your best efforts. But it certainly pays to be prepared.

Whatever decisions your teen is facing, you as the parent can help by following these 4 principles:

  • Always encourage your teen to talk with you about anything that is on her mind. She needs more than anything to know that she can share whatever she is facing or is worrying her WITHOUT Mom or Dad freaking out.
  • When your teen does share something with you, listen intently to the entire spiel. Don’t inject your opinion, even if you are dying to say something. Just listen. Sometimes, a person just needs to vocalize something in order to be able to sort it out in her own mind. It helps a lot in the decision process.
  • Work together to write down the options for the decision your teen might be facing. Encourage your teen to list the pros in one column and the cons in another, and then weigh which option makes the most sense.
  • Only give advice if you are asked for it, and even then be very careful about dispensing it. When a child reaches the teen years, especially an older teen, the art of decision-making becomes a necessary skill to learn. The more he can exercise that “muscle,” the more capable he will be of making more critical decisions in the future.

We love it when our kids seek our guidance in their decision processes, and we take that responsibility very seriously. Always remember that having your teen seek your help is one of the best demonstrations of their love and trust for you. Be sure you weigh your words and reactions carefully; make them happy they asked for your help.

What important decisions have you and your teen or pre-teen faced recently? Have you any good advice for other parents who might be struggling with how to help their kids make good, effective decisions? If so, please scroll down and leave a comment in the section below.

I can’t wait to tell you about next week’s post. I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Joanne Miller, author of the new book, Creating a Haven of Peace, and I will post that interview here next week. Joanne is the wife of career coach, Dan Miller, and an amazing, talented lady. You will not want to miss her wisdom and advice on creating a peaceful home for your family. Thanks, and as always,

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