How to Help Your Teen Make Good Decisions

Parenting a teen is one of the most challenging, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding times in a parent’s life. Teens are hardwired to be contrarian and, although they have a lot of physical autonomy, their logical thought abilities are just not developed enough to be making good choices for themselves and others. Something that seemed like a good idea to your teen at the time can sometimes be dangerous. Not to mention, that their hormones are all over the place, making them dramatic and hard to reason with.

So, how can you help your teen make good decisions? There are no easy answers, but here are a few ideas that might provide guidance.

Talk to them about possible risks.

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Often, teens find themselves with opportunities to try risky behavior, like smoking marijuana or drinking. If you notice that your teen is spending time with friends who you suspect may be marijuana users, it’s time to sit down and have a conversation. Make sure that the talk remains open and non-judgmental—you don’t want to alienate your kid. You just want to provide information about how the influence of marijuana in their bloodstream can cause impairment that will impact their reaction time, for instance. If you have a teen with a driver’s license, it’s crucial that you talk about the legal limit (that is, the amount of THC allowed in the bloodstream) before the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) finds them first. It’s simply not safe to drive high, and drunk driving or drowsy driving is dangerous, potentially fatal activity, despite the increased legalization across the United States. Make sure to communicate all of this to your teen if you suspect that they’re dabbling in drug use and aren’t practicing safe driving.

Offer spiritual guidance and tools.

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Sometimes, your kid is just feeling lost and needs a roadmap to get back to the straight and narrow. If your family is religious or spiritual in any way, it can be helpful to draw on religious texts to get your teen the guidance they need. You can find the NRSV Bible online, and use it to look at some uplifting passages with your teen. The NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) Bible is very readable, and this edition provides an approachable translation that you can use as a jumping-off point for some in-depth discussions about what they’re feeling. It’s definitely easier scripture to read than the King James version, and the scripture quotations may be helpful to remind your teen where they come from and where they’re going. Whether you’re a Roman Catholic or a Protestant, using the NRSV Bible to reach your teen will help ground them in the values that you’re raising them on.

Practice active listening.

The most important thing you can do for your teen is just to listen as actively as you can. They need to know that no matter what happens—whether they fail a breathalyzer test, are involved in a car crash, or have been ditching class on a regular basis—you love them unconditionally. Transparencies between parents and kids are crucial, especially if they’re having a serious problem. This doesn’t mean that you should enable their behavior—not at all. Their safety (and traffic safety, if you think they’ve been a drunk driver) is the most important thing, after all, and if they’re a smoker you need to take a stand before law enforcement catches up with them. All it means is that you should listen calmly, with an open heart, to whatever serious problem they’re sharing. Try not to judge. After all, we were all teens once. We all made bad choices, or did things we thought were a good idea and turned out to be terrible. Remember, a little compassion goes a long way.

Evelyn Marshall

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