The teenage years present opportunities that are particularly challenging. How do we dads teach the skills to make good decisions? Regardless of the circumstances, the influences or the feel of the moment, how do we prepare our kids to come up with the “right” choice when they face a challenging situation with a variety of options—and consequences?
The Challenges of Teenhood
Teens are faced with countless new challenges. Who should they befriend? How should they spend their money? Should they get a job? Should they study hard or cheat on the test? They also face difficult issues such as conflict, faith, bravery, humility, morality and sexuality.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes (2017) that over 60% of students have consumed alcohol by the end of high school. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports (2017) that 40% of high school students have had sexual intercourse.
Many of our sons and daughters move out after high school and live in a college dorm or apartment. The challenges only become more complex. How do we feel about the possible choices they will face and how do we make sure our kids are prepared to make good decisions? We can’t put a protective shield over them. We have to teach our kids good decision-making by example. We also have to drive home the point that there can be devastating consequences as the result of a bad decision. If we have appropriate, personal examples of the latter to share with them, we should.
Know that you play an important role. Regardless of what you think, the actions you take, the attitudes you adopt, and the problem-solving methods you employ serve as a huge example.
Be an example. You’ve acquired a lot of experience and hopefully some wisdom. You can take those occasional opportunities that arise to impart some of that wisdom to your kids. Give them something to emulate.
Always be there. Establish a good relationship by your presence, your willingness to listen, and your respect for your child.
Be proactive. Step in when it is appropriate. While this can easily be overdone, it is important to know when to gently take an active role and prevent bad decisions from becoming worse.
Rehearse situations. If your son or daughter is going out on a date, listen to his or her feelings and excitement. Together create options for addressing potential concerns.
Teach consequences of decisions. Make sure your teen knows s/he is responsible for individual actions taken or not taken. Actions do have consequences, and teens need to experience the result of theirs.
Don’t overprescribe. Let your teen assume more responsibility as decision making gets better. This shows respect and builds trust.
Cornell University has an excellent report entitled, “Adolescent and Risk: Helping Young People Make Better Choices,” that provides good advice. It is available on the web at
As the report says, poor choices can have terrible consequences. Make sure you help your child build the capacity to make the best choices now.