How to help your teen make big decisions

“I need to decide what to do after high school!”

This is the big topic of conversation in my house these days. It seems to be a cruel joke of nature that as teenagers approach one of the first big decisions of their lives, their decision making tool (the brain) is still under construction.

What will it be? Post-secondary education? Entering the workforce? Travel?

So many options and so many decisions to be made. Some kids have known what they want to be and how to achieve this since preschool. Others, like my daughter, well, it isn’t so straight forward and it can be exhausting following her circling train of thought.

Making decisions concept. Sneakers on the asphalt road with drawn arrows pointing to two directions.

An example of what I am talking about:

My daughter and I spent the day touring a university campus and one of our main interactions centered on which picture should be added to her social media story.

“Which picture should I put on instagram? Do you think this one makes me look too pale?”
I can’t see the difference, so I think I’m being safe by saying nothing.
“You aren’t saying anything because you think I look pale. You always tell me I’m pale!”

<Wait. Did I just get in trouble for not offering an opinion?>

OK, it seems to me her priorities are confused. She can’t make a decision about what picture to choose; how is she going to figure out what to do after high school? Does she realize there is a purpose to our visit today?

Human brain with rainbow watercolor spray on a white backgroundTeen brain 276 Me 0

As she approaches the final sprint to the finish line of secondary education I am trying to keep my cool. But let’s face it; her rational thinking isn’t always present.

The brain develops from the back to the front; the emotional brain develops before the rational brain in the front lobe. So the risk taking, thrill seeking brain is driving the bus while the planning and organizing brain takes the back seat.

Knowing this helps it all make sense. The problem is my rational brain is ticking off boxes for consideration. Finances: post-secondary education is costly. Location: will it be easy for her to get home if she needs to? Course of study: how can she know what she wants to do for the rest of her life? And lastly, how am I going to let her go? (Wait…scratch that one… it snuck in there)

So what can a parent do to help their teen as they consider their plans for the future?

First of all, rest assured that your years as an invested parent have brought you to this Mother and daughter hugging.moment and are about to pay off. The support, the limit setting, the consequences, and the opportunities for independent problem solving have created a foundation on which that brain will continue to build.

It may feel like you will never win in a battle against the teen brain but trust me, as they stand on the brink of this next big step they still need us… they just may not know what they need. So parents take time to:

  • Be a sounding board to their thoughts and ideas. Sometimes just saying things out loud provides clarity. There is no need for you to always give an opinion.
  • Offer ideas about what you think he/she may be good at. Apparently  my mom thought I should have become a designer and didn’t share this with me until I was 40! I can’t help but wonder what direction my life would have taken if she told me when I was 18. Your insight may give them the courage to take a step that they may have lacked the confidence to do on their own.
  • Support and respect their decisions/thoughts. Our kids are not always going to pick the path we think is best and that is ok. That is all part of growing up and becoming independent adults. A thoughtful decision can be a good decision.
  • Encourage them to ask questions and advocate for themselves. Let’s face it, my university applications happened a long time ago, I don’t have all the answers. It is a great skill to learn to reach out to the Guidance Department, revisit myBlueprint and talk to trusted teachers, to name a few.

There is hope! The teen brain usually finishes its re-org by the age of 24 years! By then post-secondary decision-making is often a thing of the past. 🙂

Feeling better yet?

Do you have a teen making big decisions these days? Tell us! We would love to hear!

For parenting information or to speak with a public health nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About Nicole O'Donnell, RN

Hi! I have been working as a nurse supporting children and their families in acute care, clinic settings and now in public health for over 20 years. As a mother of 4 girls I am walking the walk and talking the talk – from early elementary to high school; life is never dull! I am so thrilled to be connecting with all of you and look forward to sharing this parenting journey together!
This entry was posted in Parenting, School, school health, School-aged Children, stress, Teens and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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