The best way we know to help kids avoid getting blindsided by peer pressure and making a big mistake is to help them make some “decisions in advance.” Within a year or two of when a child is baptized, give him a special journal and explain that the last two pages are a special place where he will record things he has decided to do for the rest of his life.
Start the discussion with a fun interchange that involves things your child can decide right now as opposed to things he’ll have to wait until later to decide. It might go something like this: “James, can you decide right now who you’re going to marry?” James will normally be horrified and exclaim he’ll have to wait much longer to know that! Then ask if he can decide right now how many kids he’ll have, where he’ll live in 10 years, or what kind of car he’ll drive in 15 years.
After you’ve established there are lots of things you can’t decide right now, go on to this: “But there are some things you actually can decide in advance. For instance, can you decide right now you’re never going to take drugs?” James may jump at the chance to say, “Yes, of course I can. I will never take drugs! Let me write that down. I’m sure of that!”
At this point, you want to make him think about it harder by making up a little case study: “But James, you may think it will be easy never to try drugs right now but that decision may be harder than you think when you actually face it. You are 10 now, but in six more years you’ll be 16. What if a girl that you really like at school asks you to come to a Saturday-night party with her friends? This girl is one of the most popular in the school and you tell her that you’d love to come.
“When you get to the party you are even more excited because, by the kids you see there, you know you are about to become part of the in-crowd at school. After about a half-hour, this girl comes to you and opens her hand to show you a little white pill. She says, ‘James, you are about to have an amazing experience. Just swallow this pill and awesome things will happen. It’s not really like an addictive drug. You’ll feel the same as you do now by the time you go home.’ Everyone is clustered around, watching you.
“What would you say, James?” If he is puzzled and unsure, tell him he is probably not ready to write down that decision in advance just yet. Tell him you will give him some more case studies later and he can think about it a little more.
On the other hand, if James is strong and resolved about it and says something like, “I would say, ‘I promised myself when I was 10 years old I would never take drugs! Do you want me to break my promise?’” then you say, “Right on, James!” That boy has already thought about what might happen and is ready with an answer. He has made a decision and he is ready to write it on that last page of his journal, date it and sign it.
We have taught this principle to countless families across the world and have been amazed not only at the warm reception of the idea but at the great things parents and kids have come up with to decide in advance.
There are many things we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wish our children would decide. The key is having a way to ensure that the decisions made are theirs and not ours. The “decisions in advance” exercise is a way to accomplish exactly that.
Most parents who have started and stuck with this idea, letting children add to their lists, decision by decision, but always after a thorough discussion and some future-looking case studies, have found their children will come up with some great decisions in advance. Some examples of some of the most common:
I will never cheat on tests.
I will not participate in pornography in any form.
I will be married in the temple.
I will not smoke, drink, do drugs (they may want to list these separately).
I will stay morally clean (some of our children listed specific ways they intended to keep this promise to themselves).
I will get a college degree.
I will continue piano lessons until I finish high school.
I will pay a full tithe.
I will go on a mission.
I will get married in the temple.
I will keep my body in shape and follow the positive, good advice in the Word of Wisdom.
I will accept all church callings.
Written “decisions in advance” are not a guarantee, but they are another deterrent and a further safeguard against your children getting blindsided into quick, foolish decisions that can devastate their lives and yours.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them at www.EyresFreeBooks .com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Home Front."