Developing Decision-Makers [Guest Post]

This post is by Daniel Darling check out his website at: danieldarling.com.

“Will they make good choices?” This is the question that every parent asks, especially parents of teenagers. Its what keeps you up at night, fretting, hoping, and praying.

In my work as a pastor, I often counsel young people on the wide array of choices that lie before them. And even though I’ve talked to scores of teens from a wide variety of backgrounds, I can usually categorize them into one of two groups: those who have been equipped to make good choices and those who have not.

I’ve found that its not enough for parents to simply help them through tough choices. A good parent works hard to equip their children for a life of making those choices on their own.

How do we do this? I’ve developed five key principles that I think help to build every child’s decision-making muscles:

Let them actually make decisions. When I was in school, I thought my mom was the least cool parent on the block. Why? Because she didn’t do my homework assignments for me. When I had an oral report due, she would set a deadline (no playing with friends, reading, movies, or fun until it was done), drive me to the library, and monitor my progress. But she didn’t do it for me.

Mom didn’t care what I did my report on. She didn’t care how I presented it. But she wasn’t going to do it for me. Looking back, I realize what a gift Mom gave. She allowed me to independently make choices, succeed, and fail. If I waited until the last minute and presented it poorly, that was on me. As a result, I learned early the value of discipline, research, hard work, and excellence.

Well-meaning parents often smother their kids by making every single choice for them. But while this seems protective, it doesn’t allow children to grow and to learn the consequences of their decisions. Of course, we should always be ready to step in and overrule, mainly because a) we’re theoretically more responsible, and b) we’re still writing the checks and c) we want them to stay alive past sixteen.

One of the best decision-making tools is experience. I know people my age (early thirties), who struggle to make decisions because Mommy and Daddy did everything for them.

Let them fail. The tendency for parents is to shield our kids from every possibility of failure. But when we do that, we rob them of an important catalyst in their success. Ask Thomas Edison. We often learn more from our failures than our successes.

If a child is never allowed to fail and every single mistake is treated like Armageddon, then they will be in for a rude awaking when they enter real life.

That isn’t an excuse for passivity. Failure to act on bad behavior will teach our teens and young people that there are no boundaries and no consequences for violating them.

However, we should have appropriate levels of punishment and response.

Start early My daughter is only five and yet Angela and work hard to try to let her make decisions. Obviously she’s not in charge of the family budget and she doesn’t determine where we are going for “cation.” But we do allow her to make choices. They may be little choices like what to eat for lunch or what to wear for school, but to her they are big. And we’ve learned to live with her choices even if they weren’t what we would have envisioned.

Kids need a healthy balance of structure and independence. They need to know where the boundaries are, but have the freedom to roam within those lines.

Find some small areas where you’re children can begin to exercise their independence and use those opportunities to equip and advise them on the choices they make.

Tie Choices to Worldview Choices are not made in a vacuum; they flow from a certain value system. Its very important that we not only model our values in front of our kids, but be intentionally about teaching them what we believe and why. It’s important we allow our kids to ask questions, to engage in respectful debate at dinner table and in the car. We must allow our kids to wrestle with the truths we hold dear and allow them time to claim them as their own.

And we must demonstrate the link between their choices and their worldview, finding ways to creatively engage in important questions that reveal the motivations for every decision.

Our culture is a sea of conflicting values. Young people are assaulted daily with pressure to sacrifice their integrity, their purity, their entire belief system.

We must help equip them with a strong sense of their purpose, their mission, and their calling.

Give Them Tools Arm your kids with tools for decision-making success. Here are my four tools:

Time – teach them to carefully weigh their options and avoid making rash choices in the heat of the moment. Encourage them to enjoy a meal, a good night’s sleep, or something that allows their thoughts to settle into a rational-decision-making mode.

Peers – Help them assemble a “Kitchen Cabinet” of trusted mentors, good friends, and family who they can call on to shed light on different angles of your decision. Include people who might have a different perspective.

Prayer – Encourage them to ask God for guidance and wisdom. Nothing settles the heart and the soul like prayer.

Action – Push them toward a decision. Don’t allow them hem and haw and “wait for a sign.” Remind them to make a decision, stick with it, and don’t look back.

Believe in them What you’re children most need from you is you’re confidence in them. I’m amazed how quickly some parents dismiss their kids’ potential and knock down their dreams. He’d never make it as a lawyer. She’s too heavy to be a cheerleader. He’s not smart enough for the debate team. Damaging thought that paralyze their growth.

At the end of the day, you might be the only one who believes in you’re children. Let me them know this. Because if they know you have their back, they’ll make you proud with their choices.

This post is by Daniel Darling check out his website at: danieldarling.com.

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