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Parents Can Use Pros and Cons to Help Their Teens Make Thoughtful Decisions Too!

Let’s start by accepting that we cannot control our teens’ behavior. Stay with me here. Giving them tools for assessing their own choices empowers them to be fully responsible for their decisions, for better or worse. It also communicates our confidence in their abilities to develop the critical life skill of learning by trial and error and making effective adjustments.  These choices can range from whether they will use substances at a party to making the right college decision. Helping them to assess the pros and cons of their own choices engages the thinking part of their brain and mitigates the very powerful emotional part of the teen brain. Here are some tips for having these conversations with your teens:

* Be clear what you can control and what is really in their control. The honest truth is that we cannot inhabit their bodies and brains and make them behave in certain ways. Parents can influence their teens’ choices by implementing limits to privileges and consequences for behaviors, expressing their expectations clearly, and reinforcing family values. It is up to the teen to decide what choices they actually make. The goal is that they know how their parents feel and use that information to think through the benefits and potential consequences before making decisions.

* Help your teen talk through the pros and cons of both sides of the decision (to do and not to do). This requires the teen to see the parent perspective and the parent to see the teen perspective. State your position honestly and non-judgmentally and acknowledge that the decision is ultimately theirs to make. When each can validate the other side, it can open up dialogue and reduce the likelihood for unproductive power struggles.

* When empowering your teen to make their own decisions, after they have engaged in a thoughtful process, it is important to accept whatever choice they make and respond accordingly. This means you may agree and can support that choice or you disagree and respond thoughtfully by holding them accountable.

Julie Baron, LCSW-C


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Truths and Consequences: Helping Teens Make Thoughtful Decisions

Ever worry about a teen’s risky behavior?


Worrying about teens making decisions that could put them at risk is inherent in this work. Some behaviors are more concerning than others. The guidelines for intervention are clearer for response to suicidal or homicidal threats.  But what about the behaviors that teeter the line between expected teen experimentation and the potential for harmful or life changing consequences (think substance use, sex, online behaviors, etc)? We want our teen clients to share openly with us, and when they share behaviors that cause us concern, we feel an imminent responsibility to keep them out of harms way. It is easy for our emotions to impede a thoughtful approach in these situations. If we overreact, teens may shut down. If we underreact, we may not effectively guide them toward safer choices. What a dilemma!

One approach we have found effective to engage teens in more thoughtful decision making is by guiding them through the Pros and Cons technique. To see how this works in a real case scenario, take a look at our recent article in the May/April 2019 issue of the Psychotherapy Networker Magazine . Enjoy the article without a subscription through this link .

Julie Baron, LCSW-C