The road to healthy living begins with children setting reachable goals, but to stay true to that road children must learn to make responsible decisions. Children face the challenges of external pressures every day, whether they are from community, peers, or media. Dr. Jim Taylor in Psychology Today writes that "children who are poor decision makers are ready prey to the inevitable bad decisions when they listen to popular culture." Therefore, it is essential for children to learn at an early age what it takes to make decisions that will keep them focused on their goals.
The primary method children can use to make responsible decisions is to stop to give themselves time to think through the decision before they act. Dr. Taylor states that children lack the experience of maturity so they "tend to make decisions that are impulsive and focused on immediate gratification." Because time is ultimately the only solution for gaining experience, we need to equip children with skills they can use until they gain that experience. Young children may benefit from such tangible practices as counting to ten or taking a few deep breaths before they speak or act.
Developing decision making in children must be age appropriate. It is crucial that we recognize the capacity for decision making that grows with age. Younger children can tackle simpler decisions whereas adolescents can begin to incorporate much longer term thinking, with multiple potential outcomes and consequences, into their calculus. Thus, as we facilitate decision making, we should be mindful of this incremental process.
Despite knowing to take time to think before they act, children often face peer pressure and peer influence that can challenge their decision making. Dr. Taylor says that children under pressure "may know that doing something is stupid, but they may feel peer pressure to do it anyway." Children who develop a strong moral compass and conviction to attain their goals are more likely to make responsible decisions in the face of peer pressure. They will more carefully weigh the negative consequences of making poor decisions versus the benefits of making good decisions and how those consequences, good or bad, will affect their ability to reach their goals in the short and long run.
Teaching responsible decision-making skills is easy, but learning these skills requires time and practice to incorporate them into everyday life. A supportive learning environment that allows children to practice these skills and learn from mistakes can foster a confidence to take on more challenging decisions. This confidence in turn enables children to take on healthy risks and strive to reach more challenging goals.
Children who learn from an early age to approach decisions in a thoughtful manner are better equipped to resist the influence of popular culture. They are more likely to live confidently in each moment, because making responsible decisions brings assurance and peace of mind. Children who stop to think about their decisions are one step closer to reaching their goals.