Steps to Good Decision Making Skills for Teens

Teen girl deep in thought

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Teens make potentially life-altering decisions every single day. Yet, most teens aren't ever given skills about how to make healthy decisions.

As a result, some teens struggle when they're faced with decisions like: Should I get a job? What should I say to a friend who offers me a cigarette? Should I ask someone out on a date? Is it OK to become sexually active?

Good decision-making skills can set your teen up for success later in life. Additionally, good decision-making skills help teens manage their stress levels better.

Provide Guidance 

The key to helping your teen make the best decisions involves providing plenty of guidance, without overdoing it. Be willing to give input when necessary, but don't be afraid to step back and let your teen make mistakes.

Sometimes, natural consequences can provide valuable life lessons. Just make sure that you're there for your teen when they fail. Help them learn from their mistakes and discuss how to make a better choice in the future.

Identify the Problem

Sometimes, teens ignore problems or blame other people for them. A teen may say they're failing math because their teacher doesn't explain the assignments. Or, they may avoid doing their homework because they're too anxious to face the pile of work they've been avoiding.

So sometimes, it's important to help your teen spell out the problem. Hold a conversation with your teen and gain your teen's input by asking questions like, "What do you think is going on here?"

Brainstorm Options

Encourage your teen to identify their options. Often, teens think there are only one or two solutions to a problem. But with some time and encouragement, they can usually come up with a long list of creative solutions. Suggest that they list as many as they can, writing down their options so they can review them.

Challenge your teen to identify as many choices as possible, even if they seem like a bad idea.

Review the Pros and Cons

Once your teen has a list of options, tell them to identify the potential pros and cons of each one. Writing down the pros and cons will help them see which option could be the best choice.

Talk about how emotions can play a big role in decisions. Fear may prevent them from trying something new while excitement may cause them to underestimate risk.

Writing down the pros and cons of several options can help teens tackle a problem with logic, rather than basing their decision on emotion alone.

Ask your teen to identify which choice seems like the best one. Offer input and guidance as necessary, but try to encourage your teen to make the decision on their own.

Make sure your teen knows that there isn't always a bad choice. Choosing between two good colleges will have pros and cons but both options may be good ones. So, while it may be stressful to choose, it could be a good problem to have.

Create a Plan to Move Forward

Once your teen reviews the pros and cons of their options, talk about how to move forward. Identify what steps they can take next. Also, talk about how to evaluate their choice. It's important to examine whether it was helpful or whether they made a mistake. Examining whether their choice was effective can help them learn and assist them in making even better decisions in the future.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institutes of Health. Parenting teens: Guiding kids through turbulent years.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Social development during the teen years.

  3. Kendall PC. Child and Adolescent Therapy Fourth Edition Cognitive-Behavioral Procedures. Guilford Press.

  4. Manassis K. Problem Solving in Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy: A Skills-Based, Collaborative Approach. Guilford Press.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.