How to Teach Your Teen Problem-Solving Skills

Teach your teen how to solve problems independently.
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Although we all solve problems every day, most of us don't ever stop to think what process we use to solve those problems. And without a clear road map to solve problems, many teens struggle to overcome obstacles.

Adolescents face a variety of problems, ranging from minor disagreements with friends to major academic problems that could affect their future. Teens who lack problem-solving skills may feel stuck.


Poor Problem-Solving Skills

Teens with poor problem-solving skills may struggle in many areas of their lives. When they encounter unfamiliar situations, they may become overwhelmed and unable to their resolve problems independently.

Teens who lack problem-solving skills often avoid their problems, because it helps them keep anxiety at bay. Rather than ask for help, or risk trying a solution that may fail, they ignore their problems in hopes they'll go away. Unfortunately, most problems don’t simply disappear.

For example, a teen who doesn't understand algebra may avoid doing his homework. Instead of talking to the teacher, he may accept a zero for a grade. Skipping assignments will only cause him to fall further behind and make  it  harder for him to catch up.

Avoidance isn't the problem that stems from poor problem-solving skills - sometimes teens impulsively spring into action when faced with problems.

Instead of considering all the potential solutions, a teen may react without thinking. But, the first idea that comes to mind isn't necessarily the best way to solve the problem.

Teach Your Teen Problem-Solving Skills

Whether he's lost his cellphone or he can't find a summer job, show your teen how to solve the problem.

Here are the steps to effective problem-solving:

  • Identify the problem. It's important to be able to verbalize the problem before you attempt to tackle a solution.
  • Brainstorm possible solutions. Before springing into action, challenge your teen to develop about five potential solutions.
  • Evaluate the pros and cons of each solution. Encourage your teen to write down the pros and cons of each potential solution.
  • Choose the best option. Based on the analysis of the pros and cons, pick a potential solution and move forward implementing that solution.
  • Create a backup plan. If your teen's first method didn't work, try something else. Sometimes, trial and error can help your teen find a solution. 

Solve Problems Together

Practice solving problems with your teen. When you discover a problem - such as your teen is having difficulty waking up in the morning or he's not getting chores done on time, sit down and problem-solve together. Walk your teen through the problem-solving process step-by-step until you reach a solution.


When your teen comes to you with a problem, resist the urge to offer a quick solution. Instead, assist your teen in identifying solutions on his own.

For example, if your teen says he's going to fail his math class because he doesn't understand his homework assignment, ask, “What do you think would be helpful to you?” Write down a list of potential solutions, such as talking to his teacher, staying after school for extra help, hiring a tutor, or asking a friend for help. Then, discuss the pros and cons of each solution and work together to create a concrete action plan to address the problem.

If your teen insists he can’t come up with any solutions, offer your ideas and ask him to weigh the potential risks and benefits. Then, allow him to choose which strategy he wants to try first.

Teach your child that problems aren’t always solved in one attempt. If the solution he tries first isn’t successful, encourage him to have a backup plan. This will help your child understand he doesn’t need to give up if he doesn’t immediately solve the problem.

Encourage Independence

The ultimate goal is for your teen to be able to solve problems on his own. Offer as much support as he needs in the beginning, but over time, the amount of help and guidance your teen needs should decrease. 

Be willing to let your teen make mistakes sometimes. Natural consequences can be a good teacher. But as your teen's ability to solve problems and make good choices increases, his freedom should also increase.

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