Im­prov­ing your teen’s in­de­pen­dent think­ing skills

Springfield Sun - - OPINION -

A par­ent writes: Our teenage chil­dren seem too de­pen­dent upon us to help them make de­ci­sions. What ad­vice do you have to guide them to­wards more in­de­pen­dent prob­lem solv­ing?

All par­ents hope Steve Rich­field their chil­dren will

ma­ture in ways Cop­ing that al­low them to suc­cess­fully nav­i­gate through life’s com­plex­i­ties. With this goal in mind, par­ents grad­u­ally loosen the reins so chil­dren can gain valu­able confidence and ex­pe­ri­ence mak­ing self-guided de­ci­sions. The on­set of ado­les­cence puts de­ci­sion­mak­ing to the test due to the twists and tribu­la­tions of this dif­fi­cult phase. In­creased free­dom and ex­po­sure to so many in­flu­ences ne­ces­si­tates in­de­pen­dent think­ing skills or neg­a­tive con­se­quences will most cer­tainly oc­cur.

Here are some tips to coach your teen to be­com­ing an im­proved in­de­pen­dent thinker:

• In­tro­duce the need for every­one to build a “think­ing com­pass” to guide de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Share spe­cific ex­am­ples of how this com­pass is re­lied upon in life to fig­ure out the best course of ac­tion in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions. When ex­pected plans change, un­ex­pected dis­ap­point­ments oc­cur or new op­por­tu­ni­ties pur­sued, the com­pass is called upon. At each new life junc­ture, such as the start of high school or the earn­ing of a driver li­cense, un­fore­seen prob­lems await and the com­pass must be avail­able to as­sist. Men­tion how mis­takes are bound to oc­cur, but they are op­por­tu­ni­ties to fur­ther “cal­i­brate the com­pass,” rather than to hide or deny their oc­cur­rence.

• Stress the im­por­tance of re­quest­ing parental help and ad­vice, but sup­port their need to draw from it to build their own “sense of di­rec­tion.” Many chal­lenges are to be met on one’s own in ado­les­cence, and par­ents must sup­port the need to build an au­ton­o­mous de­sire to do so. “I could eas­ily give you my ad­vice and thoughts, but I would first like to hear what you have to say,” is one way to en­sure that your teen grapples with their own an­swers to dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. Help them ex­plore op­tions by cat­e­go­riz­ing them into likely con­se­quences, likely de­gree of suc­cess and so on. When­ever pos­si­ble, try to re­sist the urge to res­cue them from the need to sum­mon their own re­sources. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant at a time when help is only a cell­phone call away.

• Ex­plain how it is eas­ier to “think on one’s feet” when you have es­tab­lished “think­ing routes” to rely upon. A think­ing route is a de­ci­sion path, built out of the lessons from the past, pre­par­ing them for chal­lenges ahead. As chil­dren ma­ture, there are a myr­iad of lessons that con­tain in­sight into how to pro­ceed in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. When par­ents en­cour­age chil­dren to con­sider the pros and cons or cause and ef­fect, they are re­in­forc­ing the no­tion of fol­low­ing an es­tab­lished path for de­ci­sion mak­ing. In­ject prin­ci­ples such as “safety is more im­por­tant than fun” or “ad­mit my er­rors and learn from them” and your teen comes to rec­og­nize that they are build­ing a thought­ful guid­ance sys­tem to steer among the “pot­holes” ahead.

• Con­trib­ute to their reper­toire of think­ing skills by shar­ing per­sonal anec­dotes from your past or those from their young child­hood. Se­lect sto­ries that open up their mind to solv­ing prob­lems or un­der­stand­ing a sit­u­a­tion from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. It’s not enough to sim­ply say “learn from my mis­takes” un­less you of­fer the nar­ra­tive ac­com­pa­ny­ing the lessons. Sim­i­larly, re­visit early mem­o­ries that are too dis­tant for them to re­mem­ber with the lessons serv­ing as the back­drop. Dr. Steven Rich­field is an au­thor and clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist in Ply­mouth Meet­ing. He has de­vel­oped a child-friendly, selfcontrol/so­cial skills build­ing pro­gram called Par­ent Coach­ing Cards, now in use in thou­sands of homes and schools through­out the world. He can be con­tacted at di­rec­tor@par­ent­coach­ or 610-238-4450. To learn more, visit par­ent­coach­

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