I know… It’s an oxymoron. Teenagers don’t make decisions and when they do, the decisions are often times not quite what feels comfortable to the adults in the room. But this is very normal and age appropriate. It has been shown that the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, develops later than the amygdala which is responsible for instinctual reactions including fear and aggressive behavior.
When it comes to summer planning, the inability for a teen to make a decision really throws a terrible monkey wrench into family planning. I know how many of you have shared this frustration with me. We want our teenager to be happy, because his or her happiness really does result in a much more calm and pleasant household. The Catch-22 of course, is that, as adults we want to plan out everyone’s summers, get organized so everyone is coordinated and then continue on our lives throughout the winter and spring. But alas… the delightful teenager has plans of sitting on the couch this summer, won’t do anything without a friend, is waiting for John to make up his mind, and Cathy gets to go to Europe and you don’t want your teen to go there.
So what is the magic to get a teen to make decisions? And plan your summer out successfully for the whole family? There really are three steps to help teach your teen to make sound decisions, but before you start them on this training course, you have to be prepared for the process. So as the parent, you must:
set parameters within which you are comfortable,
be prepared to support the decision your teen ultimately makes, and
know that although it may make you a bit sad to let go of the control, you are really making the best investment you can ever make in your future adult.
The next steps are as follows:
Identify the conflict that needs to be resolved. So for example, you want your teenager to spend a portion of his summer doing something productive. Verbally spell out the conflict and end with a question: “What do you think you could do?” or “What are your options?” Help your teen list a few that he may not think of, but don’t do this task for him/her. When it comes to summer programming, you can contact Karen Meister at Camp Experts and Teen Summers and do a little pre-screening of programs that fit within your parameters and suggest the teen speak with the consultant.
Encourage your teen to think through each option. The best way to practice this skill development is to do it on paper. So back to our summer example, there are many options including working, going to a summer program, taking a summer class, family vacation, etc. Each of the different options have pros, cons and time constraints. And as part of a family, supporting the “no man is an island” philosophy, the pros and cons also include interaction with family. For example, if the family vacation is planned for July 4 – 14, this knowledge can be shared with the teen so they can make decisions around the parameters you have set.
Allow your teen to make the decision. Once the options are researched and pros and cons analyzed, allow your teen to make the decision. Although you may have felt his best use of time would have been to do a pre-law program at a University for four weeks, a family vacation for two weeks, hanging around for two weeks and a sports program for two weeks, he/she may have very different ideas. Within the parameters you have agreed to up front, he may choose to attend the family vacation, but work in the local ice cream shop and earn some money. You may have some “cons” of having your teenager home for the whole summer with only 4 hours every other day occupied with a job, but as agreed up front, you must set the parameters and allow your teen to decide.
One thing I have learned, that truly is a successful teacher to teens, is there is no better way to learn what you don’t want than to be able to make the decision yourself and then live with the consequences. And Mom and Dad, when your teen says — my summer is so boring, it is hot in South Florida, why didn’t I go away…. never ever ever say “I told you so!” Simply smile and say, “Maybe next summer, when you get to choose again, you may make a different choice. We are proud of you for making decisions. We love you!”