Why parents should stop making decisions for their teenage children

As we approach adulthood, many of us would prefer for our parents to take the role of advisors rather than decision-makers.

Esther Lam
Esther Lam

Published: 7 September 2020, 6:35 PM

After receiving my PSLE scores, I thought I would be visiting open houses and touring various secondary schools nearby before deciding on which to select.

My parents, however, had already decided that I would attend the same school as my brother, and I barely had a say in the matter.

So when the time came to decide on my post-secondary school education, I had zero clue on what to do or how to do it, while my classmates were preparing confidently for their admission interviews.

It was at this time that I (and my parents) realised the importance of learning to make my own decision when it comes to my life’s direction.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I wish my parents were never involved in my decisions. There are numerous occasions where I’ve needed their counsel and help, even today.

But here are four reasons why parents should stop making decisions for their teenage children and perhaps give them more responsibility, agency, and opportunities to learn to make decisions independently.

1. It builds up our self-confidence

Learning how to make our own decisions is an incremental process. It happens over time so that we’re not completely overwhelmed with choices overnight or end up being paralysed by indecision, like I initially was when my parents first let me buy things without asking them for permission.

Even though I was already 18, I would still call or text them for their opinion before I bought something as insignificant as instant noodles. They’d casually respond with “It’s up to you, it’s your choice”, and this initially left me crippled with indecision and resulted in a few regrettable impulse buys.

There are many decisions we have to learn to make on our own, from what to buy to organising outings with friends. PHOTO CREDIT: @THISZUN VIA PEXELS

If my parents had never given me the opportunity to make these small decisions, I would never learn to make my own bigger decisions or become confident in myself. Even a say in minor matters, like where to go for dinner, fuels us with a sense of importance that our opinions carry weight.

Practising our right to make decisions helps us gradually build up our self-confidence and also improve our discernment to make wiser choices in future.

2. We practise standing up for our beliefs

Frequently making our own decisions may also help ease us into independence.

After all, we’ll be expected to make decisions on our own, and stand for our own beliefs as we enter adulthood and the working world.

Peer pressure can be hard to resist which might result in us doing something we regret. PHOTO CREDIT: JESUS RODRIGUEZ VIA UNSPLASH
One way I learned to stand up for myself was when my curfews were lifted. Being the youngest daughter in the family, I had strict curfews for the longest time, and an angry but worried father calling me up to ask about my whereabouts if I was not home by 10pm.

Once I entered polytechnic, however, my parents became more lenient and curfews eventually morphed into an unspoken rule. Surprisingly, the leniency made me more willing to be accountable to them.

But their leniency also meant that I had to start setting my own boundaries, including learning when to put my foot down – instead of “my parents say no”, it became “I say no”.

It pushed me to rely less on my parents and more on myself to enforce my boundaries with social gatherings and time management.

3. We learn more about ourselves from our mistakes

Every decision comes with its own set of consequences and not every choice will end positively. But even bad choices can help us learn more about ourselves and our weaknesses.

Learning to make my own choices also includes taking ownership of consequences. PHOTO CREDIT: JAMES SCOTT VIA UNSPLASH

Last year, I took up two main roles in separate events: a church outdoor event and a school musical production. Both required lots of time and commitment.

I thought I could handle it simultaneously, but I was wrong. I juggled my studies with practices and meetings and returned home around 10pm or 11pm daily. It took a toll on my body and even when I wanted to rest, I felt obliged not to.

I had overcommitted myself and began to lose sight of my priorities, because everything felt equally important.

On the bright side, this whole fiasco helped me discover more about my own limitations, which I found hard to acknowledge at first.

It made me realise that my worth isn’t measured by how much I have on my to-do list and that it is okay to not be productive all the time.

4. Be their advisor, not the decision maker

In the midst of my two events last year, I remember asking my parents for advice on how to juggle my various commitments.

Aside from telling me to not overcommit next time, they encouraged me to press on and reminded me to exercise restraint and get enough rest when I was struggling and overwhelmed with my workload.

Their advice was extremely helpful and I found myself going back to them often for insights when facing new problems, and they always guided me toward making better decisions.

My parents wanted me to be comfortable sharing my life with them, like I would with my friends. PHOTO CREDIT: OMAR LOPEZ VIA UNSPLASH

In the end, being able to make my own decisions, with the help of my parents, also developed our relationship into a more mature one. It made me feel that my opinions mattered and that I could be honest with them no matter what.

My parents have been a huge influence throughout my journey, from teaching me how to evaluate my options to encouraging me to make my own decisions.

As a growing youth, one of the biggest challenges we face (other than deciding what to do with our life) is being completely honest with our parents, because many of us feel that our voices aren’t heard.

I feel blessed that my parents gave me the option to choose my own path, and I hope others can do the same.

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