How To Help Our Teens to Become Better Decision Makers

Teens have a difficult time in making decisions. You, as adults, might expect teens to think the same way we do. However, they are unable to do so. According to research published by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, adult and adolescent brains are different. When adults are about to make a decision, their brain operates in a distinct way.

Have you ever seen your teen struggle with making a decision?  

You might find they could have been debating whether or not to attend the school debate, what to eat for supper, which courses to enroll in next semester, or how to dress for school.  

Indecision can emerge about seemingly insignificant matters, major issues, or everything in between. Teenagers make potentially life-altering decisions every day. We all know that your teen's ability to make decisions will aid him or her later in life.

Unfortunately, the majority of teenagers do not know how to make informed choices for their life. In fact, teenagers are famous for taking risky decisions having long lasting negative impacts.

You may have felt powerless as a parent. “I did the ‘right' thing by presenting options,” you might have thought at first. "I want my child to feel empowered to make their own decisions!" you might continue thinking. "So why are they stuck?" you finally asked. And what can I do to assist?"  

You might be wrapped in too many questions, fears, and doubts to come up with a coherent response.

Your teen has a lot to think about while making a decision. They're thinking about their own ideas, what their peers expect of them, family norms, and media images all at the same time.  

Meanwhile, their prefrontal cortex, which is the brain's center for rational and critical thinking, is still maturing, making executive functioning more difficult than it is for adults. They're also probably concerned about forthcoming state exams and the hours of homework they'll have to complete— or any other external stressor they've just encountered.

Whew… It's no surprise if your teen feels trapped from time to time.

So, how can parents assist their children in developing and applying effective decision-making abilities?

As a parent, you can take steps to assist your child in making good decisions while also acknowledging that criticism might come as these are inevitable during adolescence.  

Also, remember that making unintentional mistakes is the beauty of growing up!

Why is Decision Making Hard for Teenagers?

The Biology of Bad Decision Making in Teens

Teens have a difficult time in making decisions. You, as adults, might expect teens to think the same way we do.  

However, they are unable to do so.

According to research published by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, adult and adolescent brains are different. When adults are about to make a decision, their brain operates in a distinct way.  

Teens' activities are mostly guided by reactive and emotional AMYGDALA (a specific region of the brain that allows for quick reactions owing to emotional changes) and less by the FRONTAL CORTEX, which accounts for reasoning and logical decisions.

Psychosocial maturity refers to the relationship between brain growth and the risk of making incorrect decisions, particularly under stressful conditions.

According to research, children aged 12 to 17 are much less psychosocially mature than children aged 18 to 23, who are likewise less psychosocially mature than adults (24 and older).

When these changes were investigated, it was discovered that teenagers are more prone to:

• Act on impulse;

• Misunderstand and misread social and emotional signs;

• Become involved in many types of mishaps;  

• Get into confrontations;

• Engage in risky conduct.

They are unable to:

• Think before acting;  

• Pause to evaluate the repercussions of their actions; and  

• Change their risky behaviors.

As a result, it's clear that making decisions is difficult for them because they tend to follow their emotions. They want everything just how they want it. They avoid making major decisions for these and other reasons because they fear losing control over their lives.

Furthermore, if the adolescent makes decisions at this age, parents and adults are generally opposed to them since adult find their choices illogical. As a result, they deprive decision-making power.

Social and Peer Impact on Teen’s Decision making 

Peers have an effect on all parts of adolescent lives, from basic things like dress and music to more serious things like relationship or indulging in any other risky behavior.

Adolescence is a period of rapid physical and mental development. Most teenagers require social acceptability and recognition at this time. They tend to do whatever their peers want them to do in order to attain this. This includes the poor decisions people make as a result of peer and societal pressure.

Adolescents' risky decisions, influenced by their peers and society, have long-term implications and cost their family a lot of money. Teenagers make terrible decisions when they are worried, under pressure, or looking for attention from their peers.

There is a significant disparity between what child do and what they know, according to research, Teenagers' decision-making abilities are influenced by two conditions, according to studies. Situations that are "hot" and "cold."

Cold settings are characterized by a low level of emotional reactivity. Teenagers prefer to think rationally and patiently throughout this period. However, in hot settings, such as among peers, they are primarily motivated by emotions such as excitement, stress, and worry. As a result, they make poor choices.

Adolescents are frequently seen making poor judgments in order to carve out a place for themselves in society. They desire to be liked by those around them.  

They also believe that being cool will make them stand out and be appreciated. They do wrong things like smoking, substance addiction, and sexual behaviors to achieve this goal.  

Parent’s Influence on Teen’s Decision Making

Parents should be the most significant component of a teenager's existence. Adolescence is not only a challenging time for children, but it is also a difficult time for parents.  

This is every other kid whose parents believe he is incapable of making decisions. This is a crucial roadblock in the development of a teen's decision-making ability. Parents' protective and obsessive feelings for their children suffocate them.

When teenagers are exposed to this type of atmosphere, they are less likely to make good judgments in the future. They always appear doubtful and perplexed about their decisions, which makes them fearful of making any.  

When parents make their children reliant on them, this is known as dependency. Later on, these parents expect their children to make all of their life's major decisions on their own.

What Adult Should Remember Before Assisting Teenagers

Adults must assist adolescents in navigating this challenging period of their lives. Here are six things that adults should remember:

• To demonstrate that aberrant behavior is not permitted, clearly established boundaries (rules) with consequences should be in place.

• In the process of resolving non-compliance with norms and regulations, continued affection is vital.

• Parents should assist their children in making sound decisions. At this age, parenting is about providing direction rather than exerting control over the child.

• Adults should pay attention to and record what causes poor decisions and behavior patterns.

• Parents and school officials should seek professional help (drug counselors, psychologists, crisis intervention personnel, etc.) if necessary to assist in the re-channeling of inappropriate behavior.

How Parents Can Help Teenagers in Decision Making

Here, are some ways you may assist your teen while still allowing them to make their own decisions.  

1. Set Teenager’s Boundary

Clarify Your Family’s Norms and Behavior

Clear family norms with your teenager regarding behavior, communication, and socialization will assist your child understand the boundaries and expectations.  

  • When your child is trying new things, rules can help keep them safe.  
  • Similarly, if your child pushes the boundaries of their independence, restriction can help you maintain consistency in your treatment of them.  
  • You can, for example, make it clear to your child that they are not permitted to visit alone. That would assist them in determining their expectations. Even if child wish to explore on their own later, they might ask their parents what they can do to satisfy their strong desire.
  • Keep an open communication about what you want. If you communicate well with your child, you and they may be able to agree on what to do and how to satisfy the want.

It is one of the simplest ways to meet expectations, and that's how your child can also make their own decisions.

It's a good idea to keep an eye on how well your child handles freedom and tweak the rules as necessary.  

As your child grows older, you may need to negotiate norms and boundaries.

Expose Them to the ‘Real World’

Our protective inclination is to shield our children from the cold, nasty world. A good dose of exposure towards the reality, on the other hand, is the best instructor for your teenagers.  

You might have caught your teenager smoking, for example. Rather than punishing him with a two-week suspension and a verbal thrashing, download images of smokers' lungs from the Internet.  

In their minds, this is considerably more powerful than sitting in their room, angry at you because they won't be able to go out on Friday night.  

Of course, you can still ground them, but this time with a real-life example of why they need to.

Understand the Gap Between What Teens Know and What They Do

From an early age, most child display a comprehension of "good" and "wrong" behavior. As their language skills improve, they are able to articulate why they behave in a particular way.  

Children and teenagers, on the other hand, have been proven to make poor decisions when they are under pressure, stressed, or seeking attention from peers.

In terms of "cold" and "hot" situations, the discrepancy between what teens know and what they select can be explained. Cold scenarios are decisions made while one's emotional arousal is low. Teenagers are able to make well-considered and sensible decisions throughout this time.

Choices made during periods of intense emotional arousal are referred to as "hot situations" (feeling excited, anxious, or upset).

Teenagers are more likely to engage in risk-taking and sensation-seeking behaviors in hot environments, with little self-control or regard for the potential consequences of their activities.

The impact of emotional arousal on decision-making explains why kids may talk about the bad repercussions of drinking and drug use with their friends, but then engage in those same behaviors with their friends.

Giving Teenagers Freedom Within Boundary

Allowing our children to make decisions does not imply that we become permissive, indulgent, or uninvolved parents.  

Fifty years of research has proven that "authoritative" parenting is beneficial to the health and well-being of teenagers. Authoritative parents are loving and involved in their children's life, and they set and regularly enforce clear limits. Authoritative parenting aids in the development of self-control in children, making them less prone to drug, alcohol, or teen pregnancy problems. Teenagers that have commanding parents perform better in school, have more self-confidence, and make more friends.  

Parenting without managing is made up of two parts:

Part One: In a supportive, involved manner, you create age-appropriate family norms, such as time limitations on technology use and expectations regarding drug and alcohol use. You don't need to make the rules; just talk about them. Your teenagers will be able to operate in a safe environment without becoming overwhelmed by everything they need to accomplish and learn.

Part 2: You delegate all future decision-making to your children. They are free to function independently within the parameters we've established.  

Teens who are given both restrictions and the flexibility to make their own decisions are more likely to be self-driven and self-disciplined. This means they'll tell themselves “No" before you have to!

I'm sure you don't need to tell you how much more enjoyable parenting becomes as a result.

2. Look at Issues from Your Teen’s Perspective

Because you've had decades of experience, some options may seem obvious to you, but your adolescent may find it difficult if he or she picks the other path.  

For example, if it's the week before final exams and your teen decides to skip studying to hang out with a friend, your annoyance can soar when your child appears bemused by his or her poor scores.  

Now, what would you do? Would you scream? Or do you want to keep your emotions in check?

It can be beneficial to chat to your teen without passing judgment in order to determine their point of view (or was). Because yelling at a teen will never fix the problem; rather, it will exacerbate it a thousand times.

Select a time when your teen is at ease and simply talk about the matter. "I know it's far more enjoyable to hang out with your friend than it is to study for your tests," you can say in the studying scenario. Do you have a schedule in mind for when you'll finish your studying?"  

  • They will eventually comprehend the need of studying on time and taking full responsibility on their own if parents use the open conversation method.
  • Taking this approach also will encourage your teen to plan ahead and make wise decisions. It may also give you peace of mind because he or she may have a strategy.

3. Brainstorm All Possible Options

If your teenager needs to make a decision and doesn't know how (or is about to make a poor decision), one technique to assist them make excellent judgments is to help them brainstorm all of their possibilities. You can try the following steps.  

  • Take some time to sit down with your teen and prepare a list.  
  • Understanding how emotion plays a large role in decision-making is a terrific strategy to assist your teen start making excellent choices. Fear, for example, may discourage individuals from trying something new, whilst exhilaration may lead them to overestimate the true hazards.  
  • Don't criticize him or her just yet if he or she makes some strange or nonsensical suggestions.  
  • Simply write them down so that you may examine them all at once.  
  • Include some of your own ideas as well, but keep in mind that none of them may be acceptable to your kid.
  • Choose the best option together after you've both come up with numerous options for dealing with the future scenario (or better ways to deal with a situation that has been handled poorly).  

It's possible that you differ about which option is the best. If your teen's safety isn't in jeopardy, it's usually best to delegate decision-making authority to him or her.  

It may also be beneficial to have a Plan A and a Plan B, with Plan A being your child's first preference. If it doesn't work, he or she should go on to Plan B.

4. Write A Pro and Con List While Deciding

One of the most effective methods to approach a problem with logic rather than emotion is to write a pro and con list. Your child will be more likely to make educated decisions and think through a solution before committing to it once they understand this.

Identifying pros and cons is one of the methods that give them the privilege to get the idea about what they should decide amongst the options.  

  • Encourage your child to identify the potential benefits and drawbacks of each option after they've produced a list of them for a specific solution. This will allow them to choose for themselves which option is the best.  
  • If they're having trouble, go into further detail and discuss the various possibilities.  
  • Never be hesitant to express your opinion, but always encourage your son or daughter to make his or her own decision.

5. Ask Them to Create a Plan to Move Forward

Discuss how to proceed after your teen has considered the advantages and disadvantages of their alternatives. Determine the next steps they can take.  

Also, discuss how to assess their decision. It's critical to determine whether it was beneficial or if they made a mistake. Examining their decision to see if it was effective could help them learn and make better decisions in the future.

  • Open communication is essential in parenting, but it can be difficult to obtain. You might have lost your child's ear the moment he detects a lecture.  
  • You will acquire essential insight into how your child thinks if you can identify similar areas where you can bond and elicit genuine discussion from him.  
  • As a result, you'll be able to predict what decision he'll make before he actually takes it. If it isn't going to be the right one, you can step in and direct them in the right way.

**Getting your child engaged in church youth groups, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or any other social organization will teach her life skills and help her grow in wisdom. It also exposes her to positive peer pressure, which enhances the likelihood that she will make the best judgments possible.  

6. Let Your Teen Make Mistakes

Allowing teenagers to make mistakes is one of the most difficult aspects of parenting. You may encourage them to make good judgments later, when the risks are likely higher, by allowing them to suffer the natural repercussions of their poor actions early in their adolescent years.  

  • A young teen who discovers that his or her friend is going to leave him because he or she was dumped for not having MORE money will learn more from this situation than from you teaching them on how to be a good friend.  
  • A teen who fails an important test due to lack of preparation will identify their own way to study better afterward in whatever topic they failed.

Obviously, this does not apply to life-or-death situations or those that have the potential to have a long-term influence on your adolescent's life. For example, do everything you can to prevent your 16-year-old from dropping out of high school or don't let them experiment with drugs while you're around.  

7. Make Them Aware “There Is Never a Bad Choice”

Finally, remind your teen that there is no such thing as a negative choice when it comes to choosing decisions. Even if they choose an alternative that doesn't work out, it's always an opportunity to learn and avoid making the same mistake twice.

At the same time, ask them to consider their limits and what they should and should not do. It is really vital to consider this before making any decision.

Your child will often learn the most valuable life lessons as a result of poor decisions. Simply, never leave your child alone when they are in need.

8. Stay Associated and Remind Your Teen of the Decision

It's critical to hold your child accountable once a decision has been made on how to address the matter. Hold him or her to their word if they claim they'll go out with a friend during the week and study on the weekends.  

Treat the decision as a long-term commitment, and encourage your teen to follow suit.  

You shouldn't have to check in as much as your teen gets older and closer to maturity.  

However, if your older teen is still having difficulty sticking to decisions, you may need to continue working on this.

9. Model Your Process of Decision Making to Your Teen

By the time we reach adulthood, we've become so accustomed to making decisions that we may not even notice the process.  

However, thinking out loud about decisions — from what to make for dinner to where to go on vacation — might help children understand how you're approaching them.  

  • What other options do you have?  
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

The next stage is to have a conversation with your children about important decisions that affect them.  

  • Consider the choice between attending a classmate's birthday celebration or going to a different friend's residence.  
  • Ask your child why they should attend the party vs why they shouldn't.  
  • Then talk about how the birthday child would react if they found out your youngster skipped the celebration to play with a buddy.  
  • The earlier you can teach children to consider how their actions may affect others, the better.

Why “Stepping Back to Let Them Decide on Their Own” Is Necessary?

You can take a step back once you're sure you can trust your teenager with a decision. Small decisions, such as which flavor of ice cream to purchase or who to invite over for a dinner, are a terrific place to begin.  

Consider the following scenario:

• Allow children to choose their own clothing, as long as it is weather appropriate.

• Allow them to choose which books they want to read.

• Let them choose how they want to celebrate their birthday.

It can be difficult to take a step back at times, but it's critical to express your belief in their developing talents. Not only are you assisting your child in developing decision-making skills, but you're also assisting them in shaping their character by allowing them to develop the attributes that all successful decision-makers share, such as:

• Self-confidence  

• Decisiveness  

• Thoughtfulness  

• Analytical thinking  

• Empathy  

• Trust in oneself and their opinions

If you let your teen small opportunities to make their own judgments, they will know what to do in larger situations because they have been trained.  


Despite the fact that making poor decisions is an inevitable part of growing up, most parents desire to shield their children from making highly dangerous or unlawful decisions.

Good decision-making abilities can be learnt, and if we summarize the entire blog, we can arrive at the following conclusions.

1. Tell them clearly about your family’s norms and culture. Your child will be better able to comprehend the boundaries and expectations if you establish clear family rules in terms of behavior, communication, and socializing. Rules can keep your child safe when they are attempting new activities.  

2. Ask to list out all the possible options to act on. After your child has created a list of options for a specific solution, encourage them to evaluate the potential pros and cons of each one. This will assist them to determine which option is the best for them.

3. After your kid has weighed the benefits and drawbacks of their options, talk about how to proceed. Determine what actions they can take next. Examining their decision to see if it was successful could aid them in learning and making better judgments in the future.

4. One of the most challenging things of parenting is allowing teenagers to make errors. Allowing children to experience the natural consequences of their poor decisions early in their teenage years may encourage them to make good decisions later, when the stakes are likely to be higher.

5. Remind teenagers that it's okay to ask for help. They don't have to make decisions on their own. Make sure they save the contact information of persons who can help them sort through their options if they find themselves in a difficult circumstance (siblings, parents, or extended family)

6. Look for opportunities to learn from your mistakes. Teenagers are prone to making poor decisions. Use these firsthand accounts to spark conversation on where decisions went wrong and how to make better decisions in the future.

Happy Parenting 😊

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