Why Teens Make Bad Decisions and How Parents Can Guide Them

We were all teens once and had done the most outlandishly foolish of things. Looking back now, I often wonder why I had acted irrationally and got myself into trouble back in the day. Some of you may have even gotten into the long arm of the law and stirred the wrath of your parents when they had to bail you out. 

As a parent now, I am going through what my parents went through when I was a recalcitrant teen in the mid to late 80s. I have three daughters and am now in the throes of dealing with these headstrong teens.   From trips to the hospital A&E because of one child’s rebellion to getting endless phone calls from another child’s class teacher, the list of heart-stopping moments often spring on me unexpectedly.  Life is never a dull moment when you have three children!

Understanding The Teen’s Brain

If you are a parent to teens, take heart that these unruly teenage behaviors are just a passing phase. There is a biological reason for this behavior – the areas of the brain that control rational decision-making do not fully develop until 25 years of age. A teen’s developing brain places them at greater risk of being reactive in their decision-making, and less able to consider the consequences of their choices.

Research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala, which is the emotional part.

In teens’ brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making centre are still developing and not always at the same rate. This explains why when teens often have overwhelming emotional input and they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.   It was only after reading the facts on a teen’s brain that I started to be more empathetic towards my teenage daughters and understand why they sometimes have frivolous and wayward behaviors that make me fly into a rage.

Image source: https://bnparents.org/

How can parents guide their teenagers to apply good decision-making skills?

Teens are faced with many challenges in all aspects of their life, such as exam stress, transition to high school, selecting subjects, dealing with friends, food choices and much more. Having the ability to make good decisions help teens manage their stress levels better.  Shrewd decision-making skills can set your teen up for success later in life, so it pays to help your teen practise decision-making with something manageable like choosing a co-curricular activity in school or how she intends to spend fifty Ringgit from her savings.

Here is how you can help your teen learn to make good decisions in ten straightforward steps.

  1. Allow your teen to make decisions and choices and let her carry them out. Always explain to your teen about the consequences of her actions and the need for her to accept responsibility for choices. Later, ask her how things turned out.    
  2. It can be very tough to watch your teen fail, get hurt or make a mistake but your defiant teen can only learn how to handle disappointment or failures through trial and error.
  3. Helicopter parents tend to jump in with advice to try to fix their children’s problems or place blame. This can make teens less likely to be open with their parents in the future.  You want to make it emotionally safe and easy for them to come to you so that you are always a part of their life.
  4. Involve your teen in decisions that are related to the family. 
  5. Brainstorm options; then review the pros and cons together. Once your teen has a list of options, tell them to identify the potential pros and cons of each one. Get your teen to write down the pros and cons to help them see for themself which option could be the best choice.
  6. Help your teen set realistic goals and guide her in achieving the goals.
  7. Show faith in your teen’s ability to reach those goals. Say words of encouragement to her.
  8. Give your teen unconditional love and demonstrate it in every possible way. Be supportive even when your teen makes mistakes.
  9. Help your teen understand the changes in their brain.
  10. Be open and understanding whenever your teen needs to talk to someone.

In conclusion

The hormone-raging teenage years can be some of the best and hardest years in a person’s life. As your teens transition from teenagehood to adulthood, they will be faced with difficult situations and struggle to make safe and smart choices.  It can be challenging on all fronts for parents to guide and protect their teens.  I hope that with these basic guidelines, you will be able to assist your teen in the decision-making process in an open and amicable manner.

It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will mould them into successful and decisive human beings.


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Health Freak Mommy
Author: Health Freak Mommy

A health freak mom to 3 teenage girls. Blogger since April 2007.