Teenage girl looking stressed while looking at homework.Written by guest blogger, Juan Rodriguez

Your teen has been saving for a new phone, but picks up a new pair of shoes one afternoon while shopping with friends. They “had to have them,” but they set themselves back a few months on the phone purchase.

Sometimes, our teens make choices that don’t line up with their values. The good news? It’s totally normal. As teens grow, more choices become available (often, along with more responsibility), but teens tend to lack decision-making skills. Here’s one way to train your son or daughter to not make a decision based on emotions, but on benefits and consequences.

Identify the problem

A teen may be struggling with an unhealthy behavior like too much screen time, not getting enough sleep, or not doing their best work in class. It’s important for them to acknowledge a problem when they encounter it.

When I was in school, it took me a while to acknowledge my struggling math grade. It constantly wavered between failing to passing. I never saw it as a problem until my coach (and school policy) said I couldn’t play in that week’s football game. I finally saw it as a problem when it affected something very important to me that I needed to solve right away. It may take your teen a significant consequence for them to identify a problem event exists.

Analyze the situation

It’s important to take a step back and see the situation from a different perspective. This will lead to your teen envisioning what they want to happen. Work with them to respond to the following questions:

  • Who is affected?
  • What is contributing to the problem?
  • Why does it need to change?

Brainstorm solutions and solve the problem

Once your teen has spent time thinking through the problem, the next step is to identify possible solutions, consequences and benefits for each option.

Let’s take a look at my problem: I couldn’t play football due to my failing grade. What were some possible ways I could fix this and get back to playing?

  • Hand in my assignments on time.
    • Consequence: More homework time = less time doing what I want to do for fun.
    • Benefit: Learn time management skills, more likely to bring up grade and play football.
  • Copy homework from a peer.
    • Consequence: Possibly get caught cheating and lose the opportunity to play football.
    • Benefit: I don’t have to make time to actually do my schoolwork, and I play football.
  • Stay after school to get help.
    • Consequence: Less time I get to play video games.
    • Benefit: One-on-one time with the teacher allows me to ask questions about concepts I don’t understand, and more football playing time because of better grades!

Consider ethical responsibility

Before picking a final solution, your teen must consider any ethical issues. For instance, one of my solutions was to copy homework from a peer. At first glance, it sounds like a great solution because it solves my problem quickly, and I don’t have to do the work. But if I were to choose this option, I know a possible consequence is getting caught cheating – which is not an ethical, or right, choice. Have your teen reflect on each option and assist them in recognizing if any of their options are unethical.

Evaluate and reflect

The most important part of making a decision is evaluating and reflecting on the results. This allows teens to recognize how decisions they make now can affect them long term.  It also allows them to make any adjustments to their solution, if necessary.

The solution I selected? Complete my assignments on time. I wasn’t happy about the extra homework time taking up my video game playing, but I valued football. Plus, I learned time management is a helpful skill. I began to get my homework done sooner, and eventually my free time was minimally affected. As I reflected on my solution, I realized not only did it help me in math class, but it also improved my other grades because I built a new daily habit for school.

Final advice

My final piece of advice? Have patience. Developing responsible decision-makers takes practice. Mistakes will happen, so try to avoid the oh-so-tempting phrase, “I told you so.” With the guidance of a caring adult, their decisions will hopefully start getting wiser – and that means they’ll be responsible enough to move out of your basement one day.