Sometimes it’s hard for parents to balance serving as a sounding board and assisting with a decision-making process versus simply making a decision for their student. Many parents believe they have to make tough decisions for their student, when in reality it serves students better when they make the decision with their parents’ support and assistance.

Big Decisions They Face

Students have quite a few big decisions to make during their college years. Some examples of these decisions include:

  • Determining a major course of study
  • Considering summer job/internship options
  • Where to live on- or off-campus
  • Whether or not to continue dating a significant other
  • To continue or end participation in a musical/artistic pursuit or athletic team
  • Exploring graduate courses of study versus getting a job immediately after graduation
  • Whether or not to transfer to a different college or stay

While it is likely that most students will utilize and value their peers’ thoughts on these decisions, some will look for family assistance. It may be easiest and quickest to just offer advice, rather than listening to your student’s thought process surrounding the pros and cons of a particular decision. It may be easy to devalue significant influences for students, at times forgetting what it’s like to be their age.

How to Make a Tough Decision

However, as a parent, one of the greatest lessons you can teach your student is how to make a tough decision on his or her own. Most individuals will always consider others’ opinions. Those who are healthiest, however, have the ability to weigh those opinions in comparison to their own.

When your student does reach out to you to process a decision, consider asking several questions, rather than answering them. Here are some questions you can ask to help your student come to his or her own conclusion:

  • If you had to make this decision right now, what would it be? Why?
  • What factors are leading you towards this decision?
  • What do you hope to gain from making this decision? Is there anything you stand to lose?
  • How will this decision impact you (or you as a parent) financially?
  • How will this decision impact you physically, mentally and/or spiritually?
  • How do you think you will feel about this decision four months from now? How about four years from now?
  • How does this decision help you further your personal goals?
  • How will you handle the results/consequences of making this decision?

Having these types of conversations can help the parent/student relationship continue to grow in maturity. As students get older and graduate from college, they begin looking to their parents more as peers. Knowing they can come to you for assistance with decisions not only will teach them valuable lessons, but will also continue to forge a meaningful network of family support.

If “It’s Not a Good Time”

If you can’t spend the time needed to have a detailed conversation right when your student comes to you or calls, give assurance that you want to assist in the decision-making process. Let your student know that it’s not a good time (i.e. you are in the middle of something or ready to head out the door) and set up another time to talk. Your student will appreciate your honesty and commitment to providing your undivided attention. Plus, you will be less likely to get agitated and short-tempered, especially if the decision is one with which you might not necessarily agree.