Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What's The Plan? Helping Your Teen Make Wise Choices

the child shall know to..... choose the good” (Isaiah 7:16)

by Linda Shaw

Your teenager sits slumped on the couch, seemingly unaware of time or responsibility. What could he be thinking? And, why (you consider) doesn’t he manage his choices better?

When it comes to decision making and problem solving, adolescent brains, according to the American Academy of Child Psychology,“function differently than adults.” Although their brain development leads them to often act impulsively, adolescent youth can be quite capable of making good decisions.

What can parents do to foster this sense of autonomy?

One view of how parents can help their teenagers comes from Abraham Maslow (1908-1970). Maslow believed that we attend to our “being” needs based on our immediate needs. If one's level of being is met it is easier to focus on the next level. If however a teen’s need for esteem or belonging remains unsure they will act out (or fail to act) to fill this need.

A Parental Plan

1.Empower your teen. (Ask them “What is the Plan?”)
2.Guide your teen. (Offer them gentle reminders and choices)
3.Watch your teen grow. (Allow them to experience)
4.Advise and support your teen (Provide counsel as needed)

When confronting a teen’s indecision, parents might ask, “What is the plan?” This meets their need of both belonging (you care about their opinion) and esteem (you allow them choice). The opportunity to choose places the responsibility for self-discipline and self-respect squarely back upon the adolescent.

What other types of questions help adolescents make good decisions?

Maslow felt an important part of self actualization was to “trust your own tastes.” As parents we can help guide our youth’s realization of identity by offering acceptable choices. Moments of frustration can be prevented if we make suggestions of (at least) two choices that the teen can reasonably handle.

Once scenario might read:
Angela rides to school by way of carpool. Her friend Susie is due to pick her up at 8:05 a.m. Because Angela chose to wash her favorite jeans before breakfast and they will not be dry in time, you sense a problem. You might gently ask, “Angela, Susie will be here and your jeans will not be dry. Your black jeans are clean, or you could wear your new shorts. Which ones make you feel most comfortable?

By offering two appropriate choices you take the focus off of the inappropriate one. By asking about how each would make your teen feel, you allow them to experience a sense of pride and self in their choice.

When should we shift our questions from what to why?

Sometimes, however the best direction will go unheeded and when Angela decides to wear her jeans to school wet, as respectful parents we must allow her to do so. As teens practice making good decisions they reap the rewards of self-satisfaction and harmony with family and friends. This leads to increased confidence and helps create a base for them to make more mature decisions.

How does asking “how” help our children find understanding in their actions?

Maslow also believed that we choose growth and that growth opportunities should be given as often as possible. Sometimes, however our teens choose poorly. When this happens, we can help them probe their choices with rational reasoning to understand what went wrong and how they could have had a different experience. By counseling with our children we open up the opportunity to offer praise and expand their understanding of the world.

What questions can we as parents ask our teens to help them experience their belonging and esteem needs and boost them toward independence?

At what age should you begin giving your child choices?



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