5 Steps to Good Decision Making Skills for Teens

Teach your teen to make healthy decisions for herself.
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Teens make potentially life altering decisions every single day. Yet, most teens aren't ever given skills about how to make healthy decisions.

As a result, some teens struggle when they're faced with decisions like: Should I get a job? What should I say to a friend who offers me a cigarette? Should I ask someone out on a date? Is it OK to become sexually active? 

Good decision making skills can set your teen up for success later in life.

Additionally, good decision making skills help teens manage their stress levels better.

Here is how you can help your teen learn to make good decisions in five straightforward steps.

Step #1 - Provide Guidance 

The key to helping your teen make the best decisions involves providing plenty of guidance, without overdoing it. Be willing to give input when necessary, but don't be afraid to step back and let your teen make mistakes

Sometimes, natural consequences can provide valuable life lessons. Just make sure that you're there for your teen when she fails. Help her learn from her mistakes and discuss how to make a better choice in the future. 

Step #2: Identify the Problem

Sometimes, teens ignore problems or blame other people for them. A teen may say he's failing math because his teacher doesn't explain the assignments. Or, he may avoid doing his homework because he's too anxious to face the pile of work he's been avoiding.

So sometimes, it's important to help your teen spell out the problem. Hold a conversation with your teen and gain your teen's input by asking questions like, "What do you think is going on here?"

Step #3: Brainstorm Options

Encourage your teen to identify her options. Often, teens think there's only one or two solutions to a problem.

But with some time and encouragement, they can usually come up with a long list of creative solutions.

Challenge your teen to identify as many choices as possible--even if they seem like a bad idea. Tell her to list as many as she can. Tell her to write down her options so she can review them.

Step #4: Review the Pros and Cons

Once your teen has a list of options, tell her to identify the potential pros and cons of each one. Writing down the pros and cons will help her see for herself which option could be the best choice.

Talk about how emotions can play a big role in decisions. Fear may prevent her from trying something new while excitement may cause her to underestimate risk. Discuss how writing down the pros and cons can help her tackle a problem with logic, rather than base her decision on emotion alone. 

Ask your teen to identify which choice seems like the best one. Offer input and guidance as necessary, but try to encourage your teen to make the decision on her own. 

Make sure your teen knows that there isn't always a 'bad' choice.

Choosing between two good colleges will have pros and cons but both options may be good ones. So while it may be stressful to choose, it could be a good problem to have. 

Step #5: Create a Plan to Move Forward 

Once your teen reviews the pros and cons of her options, talk about how to move forward. Identify what steps she can take next.

Also, talk about how to evaluate her choice. It's important to examine whether it was helpful or whether she made a mistake. Examining whether her choice was effective could help her learn and assist her in making even better decisions in the future. 

Updated by Amy Morin, LCSW.

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