Grownups sometimes forget that young people face as many decisions in a typical day as we do. Choosing one flavor of ice cream over another or opting for waffles over pancakes may seem less important than the weighty matters of adulthood, but we miss teaching opportunities when we label our children’s decisions as not important. Even in their simple choices we can help young people build a foundation for good decision making.
Consider the basketball bouncing out of the driveway and into the street. For the child in hot pursuit that ball is a prized possession and retrieval is his sole focus. Certainly he’s been taught to look both ways before crossing the street, but the lost ball might negate any concerns of speeding cars. We hope our child makes a good decision in that moment that reflects his knowledge that safety trumps a runaway basketball. Have we made clear to our children they are of more value than any material object? My girls hear often, “I can get another XYZ but I cannot get another you!”
A child may not grasp the importance of hand washing during the transition from the sandbox to the dinner table especially if her tummy is exceptionally empty and mom’s serving pizza. Brushing the four teeth in front before a quick return to the favorite TV show seems right to a child. At least he can give a positive answer to the parental query, “Did you brush your teeth?” Matters of hygiene usually do not make a child’s top ten list of Ways to Spend My Time. Patience, gentle reminders and consistent adult examples can turn the tide.
Our kids struggle with the need to feel accepted and often face tough choices where the direction of peers conflicts with the precepts mom and dad have worked to instill. Peer pressure remains a phenomenal force, and our young people need help handling this challenge. What choice will our child make when a friend lifts a candy bar from the store without paying? How will our child handle a party invitation when the planned entertainment includes movies with inappropriate material? Mastering these situations early in life will build strong decision-making muscles for the tougher choices that arrive with the teen years.
Do we want to help our children master decision making? Help them develop a set of questions that make the choices easier. Here’s a starting place.
- Am I feeling pressure to hurry and decide without thinking things through?
- Are any of God’s rules going to be broken by this choice?
- Will I have to ignore things my parents have taught me or expect of me?
- Does this choice go against any of our household rules?
- Will my decision lead to harm for me or another person? (Note that harm can affect bodies as well as feelings.)
- Do I have a funny feeling inside about this choice?
- Should I ask a grownup for help with the choice?
The Bible describes a contest between God’s prophet Elijah and the prophets of the false god Baal (see 1 Kings 18). Elijah chose the contest as a way to help the people of Israel make a decision, and everyone including King Ahab turned out for the event.
Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent. 1 Kings 18:21 NLT
We make decisions every day but one is the most important. That is the decision to let Jesus be our Savior. And I am the only one who can make that choice for me. And guess what? My child is the only one who can make that choice for himself (or herself).
That awareness adds a sense of urgency to helping young people develop good decision-making skills, doesn’t it?