Do you know where this line came from? “You have chosen wisely.”
If you are over 40 and consider yourself a movie buff, you are proudly answering that it came from the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
In it, the adventure-seeking hero, Indiana, had come to a climactic, life-and-death moment and had to make a choice. Fans breathed a sigh of relief when he was told by the guardian of the Holy Grail that he had chosen wisely – and consequently lived.
As our children enter into the teen years they begin a rite of passage that should include making more decisions. Thankfully, most of them are not life-and-death, but they are important, nonetheless.
This is a season of life marked with many moments of thinking-for-oneself and is a normal part of maturing and gaining healthy independence.
Often times the process of learning how to make good decisions is as critical to growth as the actual resolutions that are reached.
Here are 3 important factors to consider when helping your teen navigate through a decision-making process.
You will notice that the first two steps help in determining what is the best choice in a given scenario.
The third is a necessary quality for all competent decision-makers.
1) Assess and Adjust
Before you can guide your teen, it is helpful to assess the degree to which they are willing to make a choice and then adjust any barriers that might be present.
In the case of a strong-willed kid, the desire to choose is not usually the problem – that fact has probably been evident since birth.
If this describes your child, it is crucial to give them the freedom to make choices. However, if they have a track record of making crazy ones, you might need to reign them in a bit by narrowing their selections down to a few acceptable options.
Other teens may lack the courage to make a choice, and instead, tend to rely on parents to make all their decisions.
These kids need to be pushed a bit out of their comfort zone. The more they practice weighing the pros and cons and choosing a direction, the more comfortable they will become with making their own decisions.
In either extreme – and every case in between – teens should feel safe to make mistakes and should be encouraged to learn from them.
2) Ask and Listen
One of the best ways to establish a learning mindset in regards to making decisions is to ask effective questions and of course, listen to the answers.
Although you might feel there aren’t any questions that are off-limits when it comes to your kids, there are definitely better ways to word them.
For example, some questions that would tend to stifle good, open, communication might be:
● Why are you so far behind the others?
● What’s your problem?
● Why did you do that?
● Who made that decision?
● Don’t you know better than that?
Each of these injects judgment rather quickly. This will make your child very hesitant to seek your wisdom.
More effective ways to word these same ideas that instill confidence and ignite conversation are:
● How do you feel about your progress so far?
● What’s working well with it? What is not working well with it?
● Why do you think that?
● What kind of support do you need to achieve success?
● What will the benefits be for you?
These latter questions promote a healthier conversation and can point your child in the direction of autonomy.
3) Accept and Avoid
Have you ever been surprised by a person’s willingness to accept ownership of their decisions – regardless of whether it was a good or not-so-good choice?
It’s a rare quality in our culture.
Avoiding the blame-game is hard to do – even for mature adults – but is a critical part of being a competent decision-maker.
Teaching your teens to do this starts in your own backyard. As with many other important lessons, they need to see and experience you practicing what you preach.
Typically, if your child is producing excuses every time they make a decision, it may stem from one of two places – fear or pride.
For instance, if you often hear, “I didn’t know” or “I tried, but I couldn’t do it” your child may feel that they are not able to make the right decision. Fear of making a mistake may prevent them from choosing, or cause them to give excuses when things go wrong.
If your child says things like, “Well it wasn’t my fault” or “He made me do it,” pride may be getting in the way of owning up to his choices. He might feel that he always has to be perfect. If his performance isn’t flawless each time he might be inclined to play the blame game to maintain the illusion of being perfect.
Learning to “choose wisely,” is a life-long journey.
The teen years are a great time for our kids to practice the art of making decisions. It is a responsibility that can feel heavy for some and perhaps taken too lightly by others.
Encourage your children to approach decision-making in a positive way by asking effective questions that stimulate thinking and healthy conversations.
Teach them that owning their choices is not only an attractive quality but will help them to earn respect with their family, friends, and teammates.