SYF: Making Those Tough Decisions

As a parent, you make countless decisions that help to guide your teenager through adolescence. Achieving that delicate balance between under-parenting and over-parenting can be a challenge. When to say “yes” and when to say “no?”

Occasionally when my daughters would ask permission to do something that I wasn’t sure about, I would respond with, “I need to think about this,” or “I need more information to make a decision.” Several things can happen as the next few days play out. My daughter might lose interest in the activity, or the plans may have fallen through. So by asking for more time to consider the request, I ended up saying “no” less often. This extra time and information also helped me to make the right decision more often. 

At other times when faced with a decision, I’d delay giving an answer. I’d respond with, “That’s interesting, I’ll have to think about this.” If this involved other teens and their parents, often another parent said “no” first. I’d let someone else ‘rain on the parade.’

When some parents don’t have enough information, they turn the tables and ask their teen to use her best judgment. The teen is asked to use her good sense and judgment and then decide. Interestingly, many teens do not want to make the final decision; it makes them responsible for the decision. It’s far easier to blame someone else if this turns out to be a poor decision. 

A friend of mine, when faced with a difficult decision, asks her teen to think about the worst scenario. They discuss some of the possible dangers and things that could go wrong. Then they decide together if the daughter can handle the situation. Their discussion usually includes some solutions to the possible problems which could arise. This is great practice because teens will react better and quicker to real life situations if they have an opportunity to plan a strategy in advance. 

Don’t assume that just because your teen asks permission to do something that she really wants to hear “yes.” Many times it is easier for a teen to use her parents as a scapegoat, “My mom would never let me go.” This is an easier answer for teens that really don’t want to participate in an activity. I told my daughters they could use me as the scapegoat anytime they wanted to. 

You can’t parent a teen without hearing at least once, “You don’t trust me.” An appropriate reply is, “I don’t trust this situation with your age group.” Even though your teen may still try to persuade you to change your mind, she will usually hear your concerns. 

It’s best if both parents agree on the major decisions concerning their teenagers. Talk with each other and try to come to an agreement before you announce the decision to your teen. Teenagers are masters at playing one parent against another until they get their way; so be watching for this. 

Much of the conflicts between parents during the teen years come from disagreeing with each other over the answer to their teen’s request. One way to avoid some of this conflict is to allow the parent who will be most affected by the outcome to make the final decision. Perhaps the parent with the most expertise in a particular area can have the final say. It helps to agree in advance about these issues as to which parent will take the lead on a particular issue. Then follow through and support your spouse and his decision.

Additional information is available from Andrea Bressler at; or; and your local office of Penn State Cooperative Extension.  In Clearfield, the office is located in the Multi-Service Center, or by calling 765-7878.  In Brookville, the office is located at 180 Main Street, or by calling 849-7361.  And in Ridgway, the office is located in the Courthouse, or by calling 776-5331.  Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce.

Andrea Bressler, Penn State Cooperative Extension

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