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Help Your Teen Make Smart Decisions

The Art of the Smart Choice

It's a fact: Adolescents are more likely than grown-ups to make impulsive, emotional decisions. That's because the teen brain—specifically, the not-yet-mature prefrontal cortex—isn't fully wired for thinking ahead or sizing up risks and rewards. Here's a five-step plan for parents to help kids develop a better skill set.

Let go. After years of calling the shots, make sure you're truly ready to back off and let your child take charge. The transition from "Because I said so!" to "What do you think is best?" is one huge, scary leap.

Take opposing sides. Ask your teen to spell out—orally or on paper—the upside and downside of the issue at hand. It's fine to point out a few pluses and minuses he can't come up with on his own.

Be a sounding board. Your kid might get mired in details and lose sight of the big picture. Listen to her thought process and help her refocus as needed.

Hold your tongue. It will take all your willpower not to jump in and say, "I think you should...." Remind yourself that the goal is for your teen to make an informed decision, even if you disagree.

Reflect and regroup. Have a sit-down and ask your kid to evaluate her decision after the fact—what worked, what didn't, what she might do differently next time. No judgments or criticism allowed.

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.