Decision-Making Skills: A Key to Surviving Teen Years

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Teenage years can only be described as challenging! Both parents and teens alike have real life experiences to illustrate just how challenging! The one thing that sets the quality and ability of youth apart, more than anything else, is their decision-making skills. The teen years bring a real shift in decision-making, and parents are often left wondering just what their child is thinking. While it’s little comfort, there are real medical reasons why teenagers think they’re invincible and discount the consequences of their choices.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), has found the teen brain is not a finished product but is a work in progress. Until recently, most scientists believed the major “wiring” of the brain was completed by as early as three years of age and that the brain was fully mature by the age of 10 or 12. Research on brain development now indicates the part of the brain that influences decision making and problem solving doesn’t fully develop until early adulthood. The frontal lobes, which help put the brakes on desire for thrills and risk-taking, are among the last areas of the brain to develop.

In calm situations, teens can reason as well as adults, but pressure or stress hijacks a teenager’s ability to make good decisions. So how can parents help their teens make better decisions? Listed are steps parents can take to help their teens make better decisions. After helping them define the problem, parents should teach teens 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 there are other options. Teens also worry about their friends’ reactions.

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

Teens feel fairness has more to do with being treated equitably than simply getting their way. Most teens 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, be rebellious, and make rash decisions.

For more information, please contact Christy Strickland, Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at christy_strickland@ncsu.edu, or visit our website at http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu/. North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.