Having the ability and confidence to make good decisions is a skill that will help teens in their transition to young adulthood and beyond. But learning how to trust your instincts and make the right decisions takes time and practice.
How can you help your teen develop good decision-making skills?
Why is decision-making so important? “Our goal is to raise our teenagers so they can leave us — we’re important, but temporary,” says Deborah Gilboa, M.D., physician and parenting expert. “When we don’t teach our teenagers to manage problems on their own, they don’t learn resilience.” Being resilient doesn’t mean your decisions are always right. It means you can roll with the punches and move forward when a decision doesn’t go the way you intended.
From an early age, children have the ability to begin making simple decisions for themselves. If you give your preschooler a choice between waffles and eggs for breakfast, you’ve given him a bit of power without losing yours. When you ask your young child whether he would like to wear the blue shirt or the brown one, you’re telling him you respect his opinion and that his choice has value.
By offering your child chances to practice making decisions competently, you’re building a foundation for making even bigger decisions as a teen and young adult. According to WebMD, teens should be given the freedom to figure things out in their own way within the boundaries set by parents. Parents walk a fine line between respecting a teen’s need for independence and privacy and making sure he or she doesn’t make serious mistakes.
Follow-through and commitment
It’s one thing to make a decision, quite another to follow through with it. There are times in life when a decision you make doesn’t go the way you had intended. Following through and maintaining a commitment to your decision isn’t always easy, but it can be more important than the decision itself. Help your children learn commitment when they are younger by not “saving” them when a decision goes wrong. If your 5-year-old regrets his ice cream choice, don’t offer to trade with him. If your daughter gets to school and wishes she had chosen a different pair of shoes, don’t offer to run home and switch them.
Teens make bigger choices and commitments, which can make follow-through more difficult. Trying out for basketball and making the team means your teen has made a commitment for the season — even if he decides he doesn’t like the coach. Remember not to step in and “fix” these problems, because you are robbing your teen of learning a valuable life skill.
Walk the walk
What decision-making skills are you modelling for your teen? Although we may think our teens aren’t listening to us, they are quite aware of our actions. When adults are faced with making a hard decision, it can feel overwhelming. Share your thought process with your teen — if appropriate — and make sure to follow through with your commitments even if you make a decision you later regret.
When you help children learn to make decisions competently from an early age, you give them the tools and confidence they need to help them become resilient teenagers and young adults.
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