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Decision-making skills key to surviving teen years


Mother talking with teen daughterThe one thing that sets the quality and ability of youth apart, more than anything else, are their decision-making skills, according to Jeremy Elliott-Engel, a 4-H youth development specialist with University of Missouri Extension.


“The teen years bring a real shift in decision making and parents often wonder just what their child can be thinking,” said Elliott-Engel. “While it’s little comfort, there are real, medical reasons why teenagers think they’re invincible and discount the consequences of their choices.”


Recent research on brain development indicates that the part of the brain that influences decision making and problem solving doesn’t fully develop until early adulthood. In calm situations, teens can reason as well as adults, but pressure or stress hijacks a teenager’s ability to make good decisions.


“The frontal lobes, which help put the brakes on the desire for thrills and risk-taking, are among the last areas of the brain to develop,” said Elliott-Engel.


There are steps parents can take to help their teens make better decisions. After helping them define the problem, parents should teach teens that there are six primary steps to decision making:


  1. List the choices
  2. Think about the pros and cons of each choice
  3. Assess the likelihood of the consequences actually happening
  4. Compare the consequences and their importance
  5. Decide and act
  6. Evaluate the consequences, both expected and unexpected


For teens, the first step can be the most difficult because they often only see either/or choices. Inexperienced teens may have a tough time seeing that there are other options. Teens also worry about their friends’ reactions.


The bottom line is that sometimes a parent needs to make the final decision — that is something that even most young people will admit. But it’s important to involve teens in decisions on matters that directly affect them.


“Teens feel that fairness has more to do with being treated equitably than simply getting their way. They want parents to take them seriously, ask for their opinions and listen to them instead of criticizing. If teens feel they have no control or power in the decisions important to them, they are more likely to feel angry and rebellious and to make rash decisions,” said Elliott-Engel.


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Last Updated 02/02/2015