You’ve probably heard kids and teens make poor decisions because they have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. Or maybe you have read something about kids and a lack of executive functions. It usually boils down to the idea that you can’t expect anyone under the age of 25 to make good, much less godly, decisions consistently.
What these experts don’t usually tell you is that parenting – or the lack thereof – can be a huge cause of this seeming inability of young people to make mature choices. If you don’t give your kids practice in making choices – with your help at first – how are they going to learn to make them? If you don’t expect them to exhibit self-control – and teach them how – how will they ever learn to control their behaviors and speech?
It takes some intentional parenting to raise kids who are capable of making consistently wise choices at young ages, but there are quite a few parents who do raise kids who can. Of course, teaching them about God and what He wants for them and from them is a big part of that. So is helping your kids build strong faith foundations.
At times though, giving your kids a memory device to help them remember a good, godly habit helps. There’s a great natural one that can help them make better choices and have better self-control.
Teach your kids, when they feel tempted to sin or out of control or angry, or when they have some sort of choice to make to just S-T-O-P.
- Stop. Literally stop and don’t say or do anything for a moment.
- Think. Think about what is happening right now. What am I feeling? Why? What choice do I need to make right now? What would God tell me to do?
- Options. What are all of my options right at this moment? Teach your kids that often, the best choice is to ask for time to process and walk away without saying or doing anything. This will give them more time to make a truly godly, wise choice. Most mistakes are made because we react instead of pausing, thinking and acting later. Also make sure your kids get into the habit of thinking of at least three options in every situation. Most people stop after two options, when often the third or fourth idea may be a better one.
- Pray. Praying never hurts any situation and will help in most. Maybe your child doesn’t need to pray about what flavor of ice cream to choose, but it won’t hurt either. Praying does several things. It reminds your child of God and His place in your child’s life. It can remind your child of what he or she has been taught about what God wants from us. It will give your child God’s help in tough situations. Remind your kids that quick silent prayers in their heads are just as good as dropping to their knees and praying out loud in front of everyone.
That’s it. At first, you will need to remind your kids to S-T-O-P whenever they are faced with a temptation or a choice. You will need to remind them of the steps and help them walk through them. After some time though, you can just remind them to S-T-O-P or ask them if they S-T-O-Pped in a given situation.
Make it fun for younger kids. Let them remind you to S-T-O-P when they think you have a choice. Put little stop signs around the house or give them stop sign stickers when they remember to S-T-O-P. Come up with a secret family hand signal to remind each other to S-T-O-P when you are out in public. Just because it’s teaching self-control and better decision making doesn’t mean it has to be dull and boring.
Teach your kids what God wants them to do. Help them memorize helpful scriptures. Don’t be afraid to give them little memory devices to help them remember what to do in a given situation. You may just find your kids are able to make much wiser choices than the experts would have you believe.