By Tammy Darling
“How will I serve God with my life?”
“What career should I pursue?”
“Where should I go to college?”
These aren’t easy questions for teens to answer. Good decision-making skills are essential.
Christian parents must prepare their children to make wise and godly choices. Every child is created in God’s image, complete with unique abilities and gifts. To use their abilities and gifts well and to faithfully carry out their responsibilities, teens need to learn how to use God’s wisdom and grace to make right decisions.
Setting the Stage
The Bible offers some pretty straightforward guidelines to help teens reach their full potential. In our home, we often go to God’s Word when discussing which way we should turn. Of course this isn’t always possible, but it sets the stage for a lifetime of turning to God and his Word for wisdom and direction.
Poor decisions often result in difficult—and sometimes life changing—consequences. Teens need to understand that what they do and say affects other people and determines their own future as well.
Decision making involves freedom and risk. While there’s not always one right answer, teens can learn to make wise decisions according to Scripture instead of according to their personal desires, peer pressure, or lack of decision-making skills.
Teens faced with important decisions may want to start by creating a list of pros and cons—not just with self in mind, but with God and his Word in mind as well. For example, a teen struggling with a decision about whether or not to attend a particular college may list his pros and cons this way:
• In-state rates/lower cost
• Only two hours from home
• Best friend attending there
• Known as a party university
• Would have to live on campus
• Would be with many non-believers for an extended time
In this example, the positives are easily determined, while the negatives might have lasting implications.
Deliberate decision making involves looking at the alternatives, the possible consequences, and the potential immediate and long-range results of the decision.
For example, if your teen wants a tattoo, don’t react angrily. Instead, lead him through the process of responsible decision making. Encourage him to make a list of the pros and cons, a list of potential immediate and long-range results of such a choice, and a list of possible alternatives. While your teen may think a tattoo is cool, he may not have considered the possibility of infection or of being turned down for employment because of it.
Here are five foundational blocks for making wise decisions:
Common sense. God created us with an ability to make sound judgments based on facts. When it comes to selecting a college major, for instance, common sense will consider personal strengths and weaknesses, experiences, and spiritual gifts.
Prayer. It’s not wise to spend countless hours agonizing over a major decision without spending quality time in prayer about it. Our goal is to train our teens to seek God first and trust him as a loving Father who is eager to answer their requests for wisdom and guidance.
Peace. Decisions that have been bathed in prayer, Scripture, and wise counsel will bring a measure of peace. If your teen still feels anxious after following these guidelines, remind her that some anxiety is common when facing new situations. Teens can learn to tell the difference between being nervous about a job interview and an unsettling feeling about the position.
Personal experience. Life is a classroom, and no one wants to keep repeating the same grade. Encourage your teens to reflect on past decisions, determine those that were good and those that were poor, and consider how those decisions have influenced where they are now and what options they currently have before them. Sometimes it’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.
Wise counsel. Most teens want more independence, but on the flip side, none of us is meant to go it alone. Teens show maturity and wisdom when they recognize the need for others and seek the advice of others who are further along in the journey.
Doing Our Part
We want our children to navigate efficiently through life situations and to better understand the consequences of their behavior. “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps” (Proverbs 14:15, NIV 1984). There are at lease three ways we can help our kids develop sound reasoning and thinking skills.
Show how you make decisions. Explain the thought process you follow when you need to make a decision. For example, will the choice bring glory to God? How will your decision impact others? What are the pros and cons? Does it fit in with your goals? Walk your kids through the process using real and hypothetical situations.
Challenge their mental astuteness. Take advantage of available computer programs, video games, and puzzle books to stimulate critical thinking. When watching TV together, discuss the moral implications of the characters’ attitudes and behaviors. Ask, “If this had been done or said instead, how might things have been different?” Integrate the Bible into your discussions so your teens understand how life correlates with Scripture.
Set a good example. Our lives are the most influential teaching tool we have. The choices we make as adults will reinforce everything we’re trying to teach our children, or undermine all we’ve said. Ask God to help you, as well as your children, make wise choices.
It takes time to develop good judgment. But when your teen is committed to making good choices and has the tools necessary to do so, the process will become easier.
Tammy Darling is a freelance writer in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.
When Your Kids Make Mistakes . . .
Grace-Based Parenting: Set Your Family Free
by Tim Kimmel
(Thomas Nelson, 2005)
Generation to Generation: Practical and Creative Ideas for Raising Kids to Know and Love God
by Wayne Rice
(Standard Publishing, 2010)
Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus
by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson
(Crossway Books & Bibles, 2011)
Shepherding a Child’s Heart
by Tedd Tripp
(Shepherd Press, 1998)
“How to Comfort Your Children in Time of Need” by Becky Sweat
“Loving Your Prodigal” by Jeanette Gardner Littleton
“Build Great Relationships with Your Adult Children” by Whitney Hopler
Asking the Right Questions
Asking the right questions and searching God’s Word can help teens make better decisions.
• Is this a worldly desire? (See 1 John 2:15.)
• Will it please God, or man? (See Colossians 3:23.)
• Will I be able to ask God to bless it? (See Proverbs 10:22.)
• Can I thank God for it? (See Colossians 3:17.)
• Will it be a stumbling block to others? (See 1 Corinthians 8:9.)
• Will I want God to see me do it? (See Psalms 69:5.)
• What would the consequences be? (See Galatians 6:7.)
• Will it be a hindrance? (See Hebrews 12:1.)
• Will it bring glory to God? (See 1 Corinthians 10:31.)
• How will the enemy react? (See 1 Peter 5:8.)
• Will it bring me closer to God? (See 1 Corinthians 10:23.)
• Have I sought godly counsel? (See Proverbs 11:14.)
• Have I sought the Lord about it? (See Proverbs 3:5, 6.)