Do We Teach Our Kids How to Make Good Decisions?

Category: Weekly Columns

One of the many things that we try to teach our children is how to make good decisions.  Sometimes the problem can be that we may not always make good decisions ourselves or we may allow emotions to influence our choices.  I found this to be true in a recent argument I had with my older son and a latter discussion about an important choice he wanted to make.

The argument was about his last-minute decision to back out of his promise to come skiing with me over Winter Break, preferring instead to stay home with his friends (and girlfriend). I got angry as he made this decision days before we were supposed to leave, thus leaving me high and dry with little time to find a friend to come in his place.  My wife and other son were already scheduled to go on a very special trip to Japan and Hong Kong.

So, like the mature parent I always am, I pouted like a child, I yelled, and otherwise berated him.  The truth was he never really wanted to go, as he’s just not that into skiing (or snowboarding, in his case), but he was afraid to tell me that truth.  Once I got over my initial hurt over being spurned in favor of his friends and girlfriend (he’s 16, Dad – who do you think he prefers to hang out with?), we talked about a better way to have handled the situation.

The upshot is that he knows that he shouldn’t wait until the last minute because of fear of disappointing me (or anyone), fear of my reaction, and he should “man up” and tell the truth vs. procrastinating.  I needed to “hear” him better when he was hesitant to go and not railroad him to the decision I wanted.

Ultimately, it all worked out just fine and we both learned some lessons on how to interact better.  Frankly, he was the more mature one in this particular interaction, as my disappointment manifested itself in an over-reaction and somewhat childish behavior on my part.  While, once his true feelings were out in the open, he offered reasonable arguments in support of his position. He learned from this as well, and we’ll both handle a similar circumstance better in the future.

For me, the more interesting situation happened later when Will was conflicted about staying in the (rock ‘n’ roll) band he’d recently joined.  Again, I brought my past, good and bad, to the discussion.  But, in this case, we had a truly adult conversation, without any rancor, and I made the right decision by backing off and allowing him to decide for himself.  In the past, the truth has been that I was too invested in my kids doing what I wanted them to do versus what they really may have wanted to do.  The ski trip was a perfect example and I’m happy to say, I actually learned from it enough to not repeat the same sort of manipulation and mishandling with this band dilemma.

I was able to offer my opinion, but in a clearly non-judgmental way, and the upshot was that he was eager to share in his “process” and what happened as a result.  I kept my judgments to myself and he ultimately did choose to leave the band.  His biggest concern was maintaining his close friendship with his co-band leader and dear friend.  On that front, I was able to advise him to monitor the reasons he gave for leaving.  The truth would’ve undoubtedly been hurtful.  He chose to listen and, after a little hurt feelings, the two of them have remained good friends.

Frankly, I’ve mishandled similar situations way too often in my adult life, let alone when I was his age.  So, I come back to my original assertion that we tend to bring our own patterns and experience to our parenting advice when, sometimes, it may not be the best advice.  I’m so glad that I let him do this himself and so grateful that he was comfortable enough to involve me throughout the experience.

There are other times when we, as parents, know there is no doubt as to the right decision and direction our kids should go, especially in their teen years when they’re asserting their independence every chance they get.  If that “independence” involves drinking, doing drugs, or other obvious misconduct, there should be an immediate no-nonsense response from us, as parents.  That means they may be mad as us.  That means we may punish them. So what?  That is our job, as I’ve written before–to be the best parent we can be, rather than their buddy.

My son taught me a good lesson in one argument while I know I offered sound counsel in another. Each situation merits different and thoughtful consideration from us, the supposed adults.  Do we teach our kids how to make good decisions or do they teach us? Can I go out and play now?