Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Parenting Pointers: Talking Through Decisions


As we head back into school, students are also heading back to the teams, clubs, and groups that occupy much of their time. Is it too much? With the average student reporting nearly three hours per night on homework, along with 
nearly ten hours per week on extracurricular pursuits, the diminished leisure time and increased stress experienced by many teens are certainly worth a second look.


As clubs and teams demand more and more of their time and focus, teenagers can face difficult decisions. Two sports at school? One school team and one club team? What about joining the school play?  Rebecca Rolland, EdD believes that the best way to navigate these decisions with children is the way we would also navigate them with adults: conversation.


Talking Through Decisions Leads to Better Decisions


As adults, when we have a difficult decision to make, we do lots of things: make pro-and-con lists, research the options, ask an expert. But the thing that we usually value the most is conversation with a trusted friend. Your kids are no different. When they’re deciding which options to pursue and which to jettison, they’re going to talk to someone — so as a parent or caregiver, make sure one of those people is you.


There are a few things you can do as a parent to create space for your child to make the best decision possible for them:

  1. Embrace the finite. What teenagers are actually facing as they hit these decisions is the concept of finitude. When you’re eight, you can play three sports year-round and go to drama camp and music camp in the summer — because at that age, things like sports and clubs are developmental, organized primarily to provide the child with a pleasant diversion. But as they hit high school, things begin to matter more. Scholarships may be on the line. Club sponsors and coaches have greater demands for their time and attention — and children trying to make every adult in their life happy may burn themselves out. So it’s the job of a parent to make sure they understand: Each day has 24 hours, and each week has seven days. We cannot create more time; we can only manage the time we have to create maximum meaning for our lives — and that means not feeling guilty when your goals are incompatible with someone else’s.
  2. Let them talk. Ask a guiding question, like “Can you tell me what you enjoy about being in drama club?” Then just be quiet until they start talking, and stay quiet until they stop again. If they pause, but seem to have more to say, try making simple comments like, “Tell me more” or “That sounds interesting.” Try to phrase your questions and comments as neutrally as possible, so that the child doesn’t give you the answer they think you’re looking for, rather than the answer they feel is true.
  3. Make support explicit. Because teenagers are naturally fearful of letting down the adults whose opinions they value, it’s wise to make sure they know that disappointment is off the table with you. You might consider saying something like “I know last year seemed stressful for you, and I just want to make sure you know that I’m going to be proud of you and love you whether you letter in three sports or just come home and hang out with the family every day. Do you understand that?” You may be surprised to find that something they once loved has actually turned into a drain on their emotions, but they didn’t know how to articulate that to you.
  4. Talk about the forks in your own road. As your child is navigating difficult decisions, tell them about the moments when you realized you had to let something go for the good of yourself or your family. Maybe you took a job for less money because you were tired of coming home to the kids stressed out, or you finally realized it was time to quit the band because you had a family to provide for. Cost/benefit analysis is a part of life, after all, and it’s important for kids to know that their parents often face the same sort of decisions they struggle with. When you model compassion for yourself, kids learn just as much or more if you try to teach it.

Having these conversations can let kids feel seen and heard, and can help teens make these difficult decisions using both their hearts and minds. In the long run, helping kids learn to think carefully about a set of values and use those values to guide their decisions will only help them as they move from high school into adult life.



Rebecca Rolland, EdD, is a mother of two and a Harvard Speech-Language Pathologist whose new book The Art of Talking With Children details the power of "rich talk" and listening to cultivate children's creativity, kindness, and curiosity. To learn the seven pillars of rich talk to empower your family relationships, visit or her press kit at

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