Developing Good Judgment in Teens
We all want our teenagers to have good judgment. Every parent hopes their child will make positive choices that demonstrate respect and responsibility, that protect their safety and well-being, and that lead them to future success. So the question becomes this: how do we develop good judgment in our youth?
Judgment is the ability to analyze and evaluate situations in life. The ability to think critically about past experiences and possible future outcomes is important in making decisions. Good judgment leads us to draw conclusions that encourage our overall well-being, while poor judgment leads us into dangerous or unhealthy situations.
No one is born with good judgment and the ability to make wise decisions. Good judgment and positive decision-making skills develop from experience combined with reflection. Therefore, youth need opportunities to make decisions and then evaluate and learn from those choices to develop good judgment.
Here is the 3-step process that parents can use to foster good judgment in their children:
Practice. It’s important that parents and teachers give youth some control and offer them lots of opportunities to make choices. For example, with young children, let them choose their own clothes, and with older kids, ask them to create their own afterschool schedule for homework, chores and extracurricular activities.
Provide guidance. When your teen faces a decision, guide them to make decisions thoughtfully. From a young age, whenever your child is facing a decision, encourage them to do three things:
- Brainstorm solutions. Brainstorming is an important step in the decision-making process because 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 ideas.
- Consider consequences. If your teen imagines implementing each solution, they can usually identify when a decision will bring out some negative results or hurt someone else. Sometimes they can eliminate an option immediately because they will realize that the consequences of the action will create more problems than the initial issue. You can help your teen think through the consequences with open-ended questions. You might ask, “I wonder if you’ll be able to get all your homework done, if you try to compete in three sports at one time?”
- Write 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 your teen see which option could be the best choice and help them base their decision on logic rather than on emotion alone.
Reflect. Making choices alone does not create good judgment – it’s the process of evaluating the consequences afterwards that is crucial. After making a decision, your teen must reflect on what went right or wrong to learn from the experience. If your teen displayed good judgment, ask them what went right so that they can repeat it in the future. When your teen makes a mistake, ask them what they could have done differently. Help them consider how things could have been different if they had made another choice. (Note, it’s important to do this through asking open-ended questions, not through lectures or “I told you so” comments.) Our teens are still learning about themselves and life, so we should fully expect them to make mistakes. If your teen brings home a report card with low grades, ask them what they think went wrong. If your teen regrets a purchase, ask them how they will make better budget decisions in the future. If they engage in a risky behavior, ask if there was some part of them that thought their decision wasn’t such a good idea. Help them formulate a plan to make the problem less likely to happen again, or discuss how they can make better choices in the future.
In addition to giving your child the opportunity to make and reflect on their choices, you can also role model good judgment. Make sure that you establish core family values and make choices that uphold them since the values you display will be your child’s reference point in making their own decisions. Talk openly about your decisions so they can see the process you use.
Also, let your teen know that there isn’t always a ‘bad’ choice. Sometimes you have to choose between two good choices. For example, if your teen is accepted into two colleges, more than likely each school will have pros and cons but both options may be good ones. Those can be harder to decide because there isn’t a clear “winner” but on the other hand, you can’t make a wrong choice!
Finally, parenting a teen requires us to be coaches more than dictators. Be willing to give input when necessary, but don’t be afraid to step back and let your teen make mistakes. Sometimes, the natural consequences of a mistake can provide the most valuable life lessons.