Helping Your Teen to Be Street-Wise and Make Good Choices

Helping Your Teen To Be Street-wise and Make Good Choices

In these days of ever increasing threats and challenges to our young people, how can we, as parents, help our young teenagers to be confident and street wise to the dangers posed to them throughout these formative years?  There are so many dangers and influences on our young teenagers from the internet, alcohol, drugs, sex and more.  How can we help them see make good choices when faced with peer pressure and other influences in society.  Friends may be telling them to try something – because it is ‘cool’ or telling them that they are stupid or immature because they don’t want to try that cigarette, drink, joint etc.  The media portrays alcohol as cool and a way to have lots of friends and enjoy themselves – advertisements show scenes of groups of young and beautiful people sipping that drink and having a really great time.  The media also portrays being attractive to be very important (particularly to young girls) and they are also being given a strong message that they have to be sexy and alluring to the opposite sex.  Children as young as 8 are wearing fake bras, tee shirts with sexy or suggestive slogans, encouraging them to be overtly sexual and sending a strong message that being sexy is equal to being attractive.  Can we, as parents, protect our young teenagers?

One option may be to keep them at home with you all of the time and never allow them to be in a situation where they have to make a choice or stand on the own two feet without Mammy or Daddy there to make the right choice for them.  We all know that that is not possible – sooner or later your teenager will have to stand up for what they believe and you can’t always be there.  So, what can you do to help your young teenager make good choices?  You can by help by teaching them to be confident, identify options in situations and be comfortable and assertive with their decision of which option they want to choose.

When faced with difficult situations, it is ideal if your teenager can feel confident enough to say ‘no’ when they want to.  They need to be confident enough not to bow to peer pressure or feel that they have to “follow the crowd” in order to be popular or fit in.  Helping your child to be comfortable and self-confident is vital for choices in life.  Your teenager needs to feel confident in “their own skin” and be able to check in with how they are really feeling and listen to themselves.  Being able to really check in with how they are feeling will help them to trust their own judgement.  Helping them to develop the skill of generating and identifying options for themselves in situations will help them to recognise their options and choose effectively.  Because they have learned how to identify options, check in with their feelings and to trust their instincts, they will be better able to communicate their decision assertively.

This all sounds well and good, but what can you do to help this?  The first advice we would offer is to start to build on these strengths and skills with your child from an early age.  Decision making for a young child may be as simple as allowing them to decide if they wear the red tee-shirt or the green tee-shirt on a particular day.  As the child grows, the decisions will be more important and as a result of this, have more consequence, each time helping the child to grow in their ability and confidence in making decisions.  As parents, we can support all of this learning by embracing some key parenting skills and styles.

Encouraging & Praising Your Child 

It is vital and invaluable to encourage and praise your child as often as possible.  The old adage “catch them doing something right” is exactly what we need to apply as often as possible to our parenting.  When your child makes progress or does something well, notice it and encourage and praise their efforts.  Even it if it is a tiny step towards a good outcome, encourage that step.  Think back to when you were a child yourself and the first time you cycled your bicycle without stabilisers?  There was most likely an adult or older sibling encouraging up to keep pedalling, telling you that you were doing fine and thus helping you to believe, have confidence and succeed in cycling without the stabilisers.  The same is true for every effort that your child makes.  Encouragement and praise are hugely effective ways for you to build your child’s self confidence and to self belief.

Be careful to encourage properly!  Remember, over sweet or flowery encouragement will sound insincere and not give the same message as sincere and personal encouragement.  When encouraging, remember to;

  • Be sincere and use an upbeat tone of voice
  • Notice small details and praise these specifically
  • Be personal
  • Don’t destroy the encouragement by stating a negative at the end

Teach Your Child How To Solve Problems 

To help a child feel confident in making decisions, it is very important to get them involved in problem solving with you from an early age.  As parents, it is often difficult to step back and help a child to identify and generate the options they have for solving a problem themselves and we are often tempted to ‘rush in’ and solve the problem for them.  However, if you can practice stepping back and helping your child to solve the problem themselves, you are teaching them an invaluable life skill.  They are learning how to identify the problem, generate options for solving the problem and practice choosing and trying out the options themselves.

Problem solving with children should follow these simple steps:

1)    Pick a good time and place to discuss the problem

2)    Give your full attention

3)    Listen first to your child/teen explaining what the problem is

4)    Check with them that you understand the problem by saying what you think you understand the problem to be and getting them to confirm.

5)    Help them to think up solutions.  Listen first – wait for them to come up the solutions themselves before you offer suggestions.

6)    Talk through the possible solutions (teaching them to generate options when faced with a problem)

7)    Agree a plan with them

8)    Arrange to chat again at a later stage to see how this worked

Keep Connected  

The importance of keeping a connection open and strong with your child or teenager cannot be underestimated.  Take time to get to know them, be interested in the world, listen and chat to them at every opportunity and try to find good times to really connect with your child.  How well do you know them?  What are their four best friend’s names?  What are their opinions on poverty/politics/religion etc?  What is their favourite music, colour?  Who do they really admire and why?  These are all things that you would most likely know about your friends so why not have the same interest in getting to know your child/teenager?  If you have a strong connection with your teenager, they are more likely to feel that they can discuss problems with you and more importantly, you can help them to solve the problem themselves.  By talking through a problem such as being asked to take drugs, they can identify their options themselves, be confident in the decision they make and you can always check in with them later to see how they feel.

Remember also, that when your teenager makes a ‘good’ choice, encourage and praise them for their maturity and ability to have worked out the options and chosen one that was right for them.  Continuous support and encouragement will help to keep them confident in their own decision making.

Educate Yourself 

If your teenager wants to talk to you about sex, drugs, alcohol or other issues, try to make sure that you understand and are aware of what the issues are.  Get information on drugs – what are the various types, what is the common or ‘street’ name for these, what are the dangers and so on.  The same is true for internet safety, alcohol and sex.  If your teenager does want to discuss issues that they are facing, then isn’t it much better if they can discuss it with someone who is aware of the subject and how it is presented to them?  Your local GP, health clinic or community centre should have information leaflets available.  You can also check out sites such as or for more information.

So the key message is, build your child’s confidence in their own ability to identify the problem, generate their options and choices, think these through, trust their own judgement and make effective decisions.  Continuous support through encouragement, helping their problem solving skills, building a strong connection with them and being aware of the dangers and situations that they face will help them to stand up for their own choices and decisions while knowing that they have you to support them when they need it.