Teaching Teens to Own Their Decisions

This article was originally written by Clayton King for Lifeway Publishers Parenting Teens Magazine and used by permission by the author Clayton King, President of Crossroads Ministries and a Youth Ministry Round Table contributor. Header image provided through creative commons, photographer steve_cx.

Our entire ministry just re-located to a new city in a new state. We moved families into new homes and we moved our staff into a new office and became acquainted with all the new shops and stores and restaurants in our new town. One thing that we didn’t have before, but we have now, is a Krispy Kreme donut shop. It’s less than a mile from where we live.

I also have two sons and they love to eat. You would think that they would immediately freak out and start begging us to eat there every time we drove by. But would you believe that they’ve not asked a single time if we could pull in for a fresh dozen donuts? No kidding. Not even once.

The reason why they haven’t asked is because for the last three years, since my dad died of diabetes, we’ve made some big changes to our lifestyle and how (and what), we eat. My sons watched their grandfather die way too young as a result of the decisions he made. My wife and I decided to leverage that opportunity to teach our kids the power of a decision as well as the consequences of each choice they make. They may crave a box of donuts (and we may even occasionally treat them to a few), but they know that no matter how good they taste, actions always lead to blessings or consequences.

We’ve tried to teach our boys to pursue wisdom for the sake of God’s glory and their own good. We don’t want them to just be obedient. We want them to learn wisdom, because wisdom is the God-given ability to see outcomes and consequences prior to the decision being made, then choosing your preferred result and acting accordingly.

How can we as parents lovingly and consistently teach our own children how to make wise decisions based on future outcomes, and not just blind obedience to our demands and desires as their mom and dad? Sharie and I are still on that journey right along with you, but we’ve learned a few principles that we’d like to pass on to you.

1. Model good decision making and include them in those conversations

As parents, we can choose which smaller decisions we include our children in. This allows them to observe the way adults discuss options, how we weigh out pros and cons, how we move past disagreements, and how we settle on a decision. This can include what restaurant the family eats at for dinner, what vacation spot the family will go to next summer, or when your son or daughter is old enough to drive on their own (and whether or not they get a car and who pays for it). Our kids will model what they see us doing, so if they never actually enter into the process of making decisions with you as parents, they will miss out on the skills of acquiring Biblical wisdom that you must impart to them. Listen my sons, to your father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. (Proverbs 4:1)

2. Start giving them responsibility as soon as possible

Parents are personally responsible to teach their kids personal responsibility. The only way this happens is to take action steps, giving them specific tasks and clearly communicating your expectations to them. Our kids do laundry (they wash, dry, fold, and hang). They cook meals. They wash dishes. They take out the garbage. They clean the house. My wife and I often joke about how lucky our future daughter-in-laws will be when they marry two men who were trained well as boys. Bottom line? Your kids will learn responsibility from you, or they will learn to be irresponsible from the culture. The sooner you begin this the better.
Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. (Proverbs 10:4)

3. Resist the temptation to always rescue them

When we rescue our children from the hard consequences of foolish or bad decisions, we are actually impeding their maturity and hindering their emotional, spiritual and intellectual development. Failure is a great teacher because it hurts, and we remember the things that hurt us. It may go against your intuition, but there comes a time when your kids have to live with the consequences of their choices. Let the sting settle in on them. Don’t bail them out.
The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. (Psalm 118:18)

4. Let them fall and fail in a safe environment

It’s better for our children to fall and fail early, and in a safe environment, where we as parents can help them think about and reflect on where they went wrong and how they can do better next time. We tell our kids, “Linger on the lesson, don’t fixate on the failure.” We help them process the wisdom they can gain from their mistakes while receiving God’s grace where they messed up. We should teach our kids to fail fast and forget about it so that they know how to handle adversity and resist the peer pressure to follow the crowd.
Plans fail for a lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. (Proverbs 15:22, 31)

Our goal as parents isn’t to be perfect. It’s to be present. When we are there, involved in our kids lives by giving support, wisdom, correction, and even freedom to fail, God will instill in them, from scripture and our example, the ability to make good decisions.

Conversation Starters:

1. Ask your child, “If I were to give you three big responsibilities in this family and you got to choose which ones, what would you choose and why?”

2. Ask your child, “Do you think I trust you? Why or why not? Give examples.”

3. Ask your child, “What ways could we as your parents help you make better decisions regarding your friends, sports, work, and your money?”

4. Ask your child, “What areas of life do you feel unprepared for? What areas could we as your parents help teach you about? Finances? Relationships? School? Household chores?”

5. Ask your child, “What ways could we be more consistent in modeling good decision making for you as a teenager?”