How to Help Teenagers Make Choices
When it comes to making a decision, many people would rather not.
There is always inherent risk when it comes to choosing a path, no matter how grandiose or miniscule. You could easily choose the wrong path, then potentially face ridicule from the 20/20 vision of future observers.
I am a reluctant decision maker. Unfortunately, I am often the one called upon to choose where the group goes to eat or to make the call on what should be the focus of a new class or group of people. I likely appear comfortable with making decisions, but inside I can be riddled with doubt and anxiety. Usually I’ll make the choice because no one else will, but it would be untrue to say that I decide because I always think I’ll make the right choice.
Yet, to grow and lead in this world, we have to find a way to make choices and good ones at that.
I come from a faith background that places a lot of importance on discovering God’s will for our lives. You hear about “waiting for God to speak” and trying to discern what God desires for one’s life choices. Often, you will find this language peppered throughout sermons and private prayer lives – hoping God will rescue us from having to make the tough choices.
You see it in the second guessing of people who have to make hard choices. I think this is why politicians are so maligned. While I’m not saying they are always virtuous or faultless in how they make choices, they have to make hard decisions on law, budgets, and policy. It is their job to choose a direction and stick with it, no matter the criticism or shift in public opinion. Most of the criticism for those who make hard decisions comes from other people who do not have to make those choices.
Stack that on top of the advent of social media where everyone can say anything about anyone, and you find a recipe for a generation who struggles in any kind of meaningful decision making.
I think we learn how to make decisions and hard choices earlier in life than we realize. If students are raised in a house where there are very few consequences, or overly harsh consequences for their choices and actions, it is likely that they could struggle making difficult decisions. Or if the opportunity to fail was taken from them and all they have ever known is success, that teenager could struggle to make decisions as well.
Deciders will inevitably make the wrong choice. But someone who is adept at making choices is willing to live with the consequences of making the wrong decision. They take ownership in the process and know they made the best possible decision with the information that was available.
Friends, we have to help teenagers make choices and informed decisions.
So often we want teenagers to make “good” or “better” choices, but often they aren’t making many choices to begin with. I understand the logic behind the idea of “not making a choice – that is a choice,” but I’m speaking of proactive, informed, and future-thinking choices.
I’d encourage you, as you work with teenagers, to consider these things to help empower students to make decisions, (and even good ones sometimes):
- Start with the small stuff. We don’t get the big, important choices right until we can practice with the small stuff. Encourage students to engage in decision making throughout their day in a way that they can point back to.
- Encourage them to choose one “hard” decision a day. Something like eating salad instead of a burger, or choosing to exercise instead of watching TV. Learning to make the harder but better choice builds up confidence to make the right choices in the long run.
- Finally, help them take ownership of their choices. If things unravel and blow up after a decision, ask them to look you in the eye and tell you why they did it, why it failed, and what they plan to do differently in the future. Failure is not a bad thing. Failure is something to learn from, but you have to be willing to take ownership to begin with.
Imagine a world where teenagers started making good choices based upon good information, support from their parents and peers, and with ownership of their failures and successes.
I believe we would see a drop in crime, drug use, and an increase in community, church engagement and school involvement. I think we can agree that we would all like to see those things!
What do you think about this?
Do you have other ideas for how to help teenagers make good choice?
Chris Robey has been working with teenagers for over a decade and is currently the Program Director for Teen Lifeline. He strives to help students see the best in themselves and occasionally blogs at lifelivedbetter.org.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.