When you read through secular research on young people and decision making, one thing is mentioned repeatedly. Young people have a tough time making consistently good choices. The causes behind it are many and vary some from child to child. What is problematic for Christian parents is that these bad choices can have not just long term, but eternal consequences.
There is a developmental aspect to making good choices, which is probably why God requires baptism of young people only at the age of accountability. As your kids approach that age, it’s important to really focus on decision making skills – especially in relation to what God wants our decisions to be. You can and probably should, start some early training with even very young children. The earlier you start training them, the easier making good choices will be for most kids.
An important aspect of that training needs to be on the concepts of cause and effect. What road should they take, when all the options look the same on the surface? Often young people make poor decisions because they have not been taught to pause and think through what can happen next. Very few children are taught to continue thinking a step or two more as to what could happen beyond the initial reaction to their choice.
The reason this is so important is that often when making a poor choice, the individual is only thinking about the immediate “payback” they think will come from that choice. They don’t pause to consider the negative consequences which may immediately follow what they believe is the desired result.
For example, children may lie to avoid punishment – or to get something they want. Yet, they fail to realize the negative consequences that may occur once the lie is exposed. If they had realized their relationships may be hurt from broken trust, or they may be fired from their job for lying – they may just have made a different choice.
For younger children, start very simply. As you read picture books, ask your child what he or she thinks may happen next before turning the page. As you talk about Bible stories, discuss the choices the person had and what happened because of the option they chose. When your child makes a poor choice, remind him/her it was a choice and connect the consequences you give as a result of making a poor choice. When your child has a choice to make, ask him/her to list at least one or two possible things that could happen with each option.
For older kids, you can introduce the concepts of pro/con lists and flow charts. For kids who are very analytical, pro/con lists work only for listing possible outcomes, not for decision making. Their lists tend to be very even as they can think of a con for almost every pro! Other children will find these lists a great first step in realizing choices often have good things or bad things that can happen as a result and choosing the option with more positive results.
Flow charts can work better for many kids and teens. Your kids can draw arrows to illustrate the different options and then more arrows that lead to various possible outcomes. For fun, have them take one flow chart out as far as they possibly can. Give them the biggest piece of paper you can find, or encourage them to tape multiple pieces of paper together.
After they are finished, see if you can add any more arrows. Find arrows the Bible can add with God’s wisdom. Talk about the ripple effect of choices in our own lives and even in the lives of others. Encourage them to use the flow chart – even if it’s only in their heads and a couple of steps out from the immediate choice. If they can do it consistently, it will improve the chances they will make better choices.
Have some fun with it, but spend as much time on this as you can. Helping your child make more godly choices will help them be more godly (Yes, actions come from the heart, but even kids with great hearts can make poor choices without training.). It is definitely worth your time and effort.