Building for Their Future


Teaching children how to make good decisions is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

When I was serving as a bishop some years ago, a young woman approached me about receiving a recommend for her temple marriage. She walked into my office with the eagerness and bright countenance that every parent hopes for in their children. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Bishop, I have been preparing for this interview for the past eight years. Early in my experience in Young Women, I made the commitment to the Lord that I would be worthy when I presented myself to my bishop to ask for a recommend for temple marriage. I have kept that commitment. I am truly worthy.”

I was thrilled with her confidence and also with the success of her parents and the Young Women program. She answered all of the temple recommend questions with the same bold yet humble confidence. She truly was ready and worthy to go to the temple and be sealed to her soon-to-be husband. This young woman had her challenges in life but had kept her promises to herself and to the Lord.

What is it that brings a young person to this point? As I reflected on our interview, I realized it was the good decisions this young woman had made throughout each season of her life.

Decision-Making Stages

As children mature, they go through various developmental stages that bring change. Along with these changes come increasingly difficult choices. In the United States, the critical decisions of youth seem to come between ages 12 and 21. The age may vary in other areas. Let’s look at the decisions young people typically face during this period.

Children encounter their first decision-making stage at about age 12. When elementary or primary school ends, children must choose for the first time their own classes in middle school or junior high. And, as young people mature physically, dress styles and social demands change dramatically.

Expectations are also changing at church and at home. At church 12-year-olds are introduced into the Young Women or Aaronic Priesthood programs. At home parents may want their children to remain dependent, while at the same time they expect them to begin acting like adults. This is a very confusing time for children and parents alike. Children this age need help knowing how to adjust to their new adolescent situation while still doing what is right.

At 16, teenagers in some areas enter a second decision-making stage by getting their driver’s license. This allows them to travel outside their neighborhood more frequently on their own. Young people this age are also old enough to date. As 16-year-olds become more independent, arguments with their parents may proliferate over what they can and cannot do. Teens this age want to make good decisions but may feel overwhelmed by the new independence and choices now available to them.

The third stage comes with the completion of high school. That is when an 18-year-old begins to enter the world of adulthood. Making decisions becomes increasingly challenging as young people face choices about college, moving away from home, financial support, individual Church activity, and serving missions. All of these factors change relationships with parents, friends, and ward members.

Decisions made at this stage are critical because they affect not only the immediate future but also the rest of a person’s life. How can young people make such important “adult” decisions when they are just beginning to reach maturity?

Between the ages of 21 and 24, young people continue to grapple with critical decisions as they make their final adjustment into adulthood. Young men return from missions, young women decide if they are going to serve a mission, and both genders are typically beginning, continuing, or completing their education. This is also a time when many make decisions about careers and marriage. Decisions in young people’s lives have always been important, but now they seem to affect life for a much longer period of time than before.

Good decisions made in each of these stages of growth seem to build on one another and, if made consistently, over time yield positive outcomes in a person’s life. On the other hand, a single poor decision can, in an instant, negatively affect a person’s life for years to come. Some choices can even affect future generations.

Gathering and Processing Information

A very young child gathers data from a single source—the family. Information gathered in those early years from other sources, such as peers or school, can often be influenced or even overridden by parents. As the child grows, however, influences from outside the family grow stronger and parental influence can weaken if the child has not had experience making decisions with the help of the family. Getting children through each of the four critical periods of their young lives depends greatly upon how well we teach them to gather information from appropriate sources, process that information, and trust themselves in making good decisions.

Characteristics of Good Decision Makers

Teaching children how to make good decisions is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. As a parent of four grown children and in my vocation and Church service, I have worked with young people for nearly 40 years. During this time I have made some observations about youth and the decision-making process.

Young people who, for the most part, make good decisions typically:

  1. 1.

    Have confidence and feelings of self-worth.

  2. 2.

    Are comfortable being with their families.

  3. 3.

    Know what their parents expect of them.

  4. 4.

    Have some say in family decisions as they grow up.

  5. 5.

    Respect and are respected by their parents.

  6. 6.

    Recognize the value of gathering available information, getting counsel, and seeking spiritual direction in making key decisions.

Helping Children Acquire These Characteristics

As a parent, how can you instill these characteristics in your own children so they are more likely to make good decisions, no matter what age group they are in? The following suggestions provide at least a partial answer to this question.

  1. 1.

    Bring the Spirit into the decision-making process by living the gospel. Pray about decisions in family prayers, and encourage your children to pray about decisions in their personal prayers. Priesthood blessings would be appropriate as needed.

  2. 2.

    Find as many ways as possible to interact with your children at all ages. Establish basic practices in your family that will encourage conversation, interaction, and teaching opportunities. Such practices include family prayer, scripture study, weekly family home evenings, shared meals, abundant family activities, and church attendance as a family.

  3. 3.

    Regularly interview your children individually. Begin with a prayer; then ask your child questions that will encourage him or her to discuss, make, and evaluate decisions. Such questions might include: How are your relationships with friends? Are you embarrassed by anything we do as a family? What financial and transportation needs do you have?

  4. 4.

    Provide appropriate advice as children make decisions in each stage of their development. Let them know how you feel about the choices before them and the possible outcomes. Provide less advice on less significant decisions as children mature so they can practice the decision-making process. Know that your children are more capable of making good decisions than you realize. Let them try what you’ve taught them.

  5. 5.

    Hold regular family councils. Invite all the children to participate in family decisions. Follow up on decisions made in earlier family councils by evaluating together the results of those decisions. Let the children see that their opinions matter.

  6. 6.

    Treat your children with respect throughout their lives. When you do so, they will respect you in return, even though at times they may cause you grief. Interacting and teaching without respect can bring negative results. Children who see their parents’ respect and sacrifice for them are more likely to honor their parents’ desires, which leads to better decisions.

  7. 7.

    Teach your children to gather good information. Encourage them to get to know teachers, bishops, Church leaders, and other good counselors. Then ask them to share that information with you as they make important decisions.

Good decisions come at some price, but decision making is a skill that can be learned and improved. If we use teaching opportunities such as family home evenings, family prayers, scripture reading, individual interviews, family councils, and constant interaction, our children will be better prepared to make decisions that can lead to peace and happiness.

Let’s Talk about It

  1. 1.

    If you have children in any of the age groups discussed in this article, share with them a difficult decision you had to make when you were their age. Ask them if they are facing similar difficult decisions in their lives. Talk about what they can do to make correct decisions.

  2. 2.

    Read together the six characteristics of good decision makers listed in the article. Have your children rate themselves on each of these characteristics while you also rate each child. Compare your answers. If any of your children rate themselves low on a characteristic, discuss what you might do to help with improvement in that area.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh

Garth A. Hanson is president of the România Bucharest Mission.