Short advice for parents: How to make decisions

My friend and colleague Laura Olson came and spoke to my Child Development class on Monday.  Within her two hour (very informative and fun) lecture, was this gem:

Birth to seven years old: Parents make the decisions.

Seven to fourteen years old: Parents listen to the child, then make the decision.

Fourteen years old through high school: Parents and teenagers make decisions together, as increasingly more of the final decision power is given to the teenager.

And I’ll make this part explicit, although Laura did not include it: By the time a teenager graduates from high school, she should be living her own life as if she were in a dorm or in an apartment.  Because it’s good practice, that’s why.

I like Laura’s rubric a lot.  It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s absolutely dead-on.  With, of course, the general caveat that any generalized, age-related advice needs to be tweaked for certain children/teenagers and certain situations.  But those exceptions should be relatively few and far between.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. The notion a teen should be living as if in a dorm by the time she graduates high school immediately makes sense to me — although I’d never thought of it before. That would certainly smooth the transition to adulthood, however.

  2. I think a child of any age ought to be listened to.

  3. I do think the under-seven set needs to be listened to before decisions are made a lot of the time. They need practice making decisions, too, and need to have control over some things (the red shirt or the blue one, etc.)

  4. Listened to when they offer an opinion is different from inviting them to contribute their thoughts/feelings/opinions on deeper matters. What color shirt to wear? Sure. What kind of jelly on the sandwich? Yes. But this rubric really applies more to questions like:

    Do you want to go to church?
    Who do you invite to your birthday party?
    What do you eat for dinner?

    (And I actually think the transition to the third group starts at closer to 12 or 13 rather than 14.)

  5. I like how you describe how parents and adolescents should have open dialogue about all issues. A confrontational attitude will only exacerbate the problem; whereas an understanding conversation will open the lines of dialogue for both parties.

  6. I just stumbled upon this site and was reading through some of the posts, and was pleased to find this one. I’m 23 and still live at home because I commute to college. While I didn’t think this would cause me too much angst because I’m older, it is making me feel trapped and unhappy, largely because I feel my relationship with my mother is extremely unhealthy.

    When I was 21 she was digging through my purse and found condoms. She later confronted me, berrated me, called me a slut, a whore, and a total disappointment. She said no man would ever want me, and threatened to beat me. I left the house and went over my cousin’s. My cousin agreed with me and was entirely blackballed by my mother to this day. My mom later apoligized for physical threats and I was allowed back into the house, but I know her views haven’t changed. She has always hated anyone I date regularly, and this has caused huge problems for most relationships I try to have.

    I am dating a wonderful man now who treats me with respect, and whom I am crazy about. The problem is that I can’t bring him to the house because she has voiced her distaste for him based on photos I showed her, and I know she will be rude. I want her to share in my happiness, but I know she won’t. She continues to try and force dating and going out on me, even though I am currently very content with my boyfriend. I am so uncomfortable that I can’t even say his name in the house. I can’t say when I am with him, and I certainly can’t talk about how much I love him.

    Yesterday, she confronted me about my never being home. I don’t believe I should even be living at home, if it weren’t for my attending school and not being able to be financially independent. I don’t know what to tell this woman. She’s extremely nasty with me when even a hint of my relationship is concerned. I feel like she doesn’t want me to be happy. There is no religious reason for her to behave as she does. When the condom incident happened I asked her to let me see a councelor because I honestly needed to know if I was the one who was crazy.

    I feel like I have a healthy sexual attitude. I’m not even promiscuous despite the fact that she’s told me I am probably loaded with diseases, and that even one partner is too many. Am I the crazy one? My living situation is probably giving me stomach ulcers and I just don’t know what to do.

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