Adolescence is a "time of increased pressure for problem
solving and personal decision (Worell & Danner, 1989, p. 3)."
Adolescents are called upon to make many difficult decisions including
decisions regarding career, sexuality, school involvement and risk
behaviors. Choices made at this time have the power to influence many
aspects of an adolescent's future. Therefore, it is essential that
adolescents be aware of the potential impact of their decisions and
learn effective decision making skills.
Decision making can be defined as the process of making choices
among possible alternatives. The skills considered important to
effective decision making are based on a normative model of decision
making, which prescribes how decisions should be made. These skills
include: 1) identifying the possible options; 2) identifying the
possible consequences that follow from each option; 3) evaluating the
desirability of each of the consequences; 4) assessing the likelihood of
each consequence; and 5) making a choice using a "decision rule"
(Furby & Beyth-Marom, 1992). In a model for teaching decision
making, Wilson & Kirby (1984) include the following skills: defining
the decision to be made; educating oneself (gathering facts and
generating alternatives); considering options; identifying a choice;
designing a plan to carry out the decision; and evaluating the decision.
These models address goal-directed, planful decision making. Although
cognitive aspects of decision making are considered important to
adolescent risk-taking (Lavery, Siegel, Cousins & Rubovits, 1993),
risk-related decisions require additional considerations (Furby &
||Both internal factors
(such as locus of control and self-concept) and external factors
(such as relationships with parents and peers) influence decision
||Motivational factors such as
self-beliefs, goals, values, attitudes and emotional states
influence decision making.
||Developmental factors (cognitive,
affective, social) influence decision making.
||Adolescents make critical decisions
in a shifting social context; the ability to evaluate decisions and
to adapt or adjust them as necessary is important.
||Some options and alternatives are
more open to some adolescents than to others; adolescents must learn
to recognize and cope with possible societal constraints.
||Different styles of decision making
may be appropriate for different types of decisions, e.g. in
emotionally sensitive or stressful situations vs. career decisions.
||Decision making ability is associated
with coping ability.
||Any one decision can be considered a
series of choices, not a one time event.
||Decisions are not made in a vacuum;
feedback influences decision making.
||There is a precedent setting aspect
to decision making; current decisions influence future choices.
||Decision making is a complex,
non-linear process; skills develop as one matures and with
Not all adolescents are equipped with the necessary pre-requisite skills
for effective decision making. These skills are dependent on such factors
as age, gender, intelligence, social class, race/ethnicity, family structure
and dynamics, religiosity, temperament, and social/culture environment
(Mann, Harmoni & Power, 1989; Strauss & Clark, 1992; Fuligni &
Eccles, 1993; Schvaneveldt & Adams, 1983). Other considerations include
conformity and compliance in relation to peers and parents; attitude toward
and perception of risk; and temporal perspective (Scott, Reppucci &
Woolard, 1995). The ways in which adolescents use information in making
decisions and the subjective value attributed to consequences is influenced
by developmental and contextual factors.
Adolescence is a time when important decisions are made based on little
life experience and which have lifelong consequences. Therefore, it is
essential to determine the best ways of enhancing effective decision making.
Interventions designed to enhance adolescent decision making ability have
led to outcomes such as: higher levels of school retention, economic self-sufficiency
and more responsible sexual behavior with pregnant and parenting adolescents
(Donnelly & Davis-Berman, 1994); lower mean tobacco use at the two-year
follow up of a substance abuse prevention program (Snow, Tebes, Arthur
& Tapasak, 1992); and higher levels of positive prosocial behavior
and lower levels of antisocial, self-destructive and socially disordered
behavior at a four- to six-year follow up of a social decision making
and problem solving program (Elias, Gara, Schuyler, Branden-Muller &
Regarding decision making and risk-taking behavior, Trad (1993) suggests
that although decision making ability alone does not account for risk
behavior, it is important to evaluate adolescents' planning and decision
making skills to determine possible areas in need of intervention. He
also suggests it is important to assist adolescents in adopting a future-orientation,
so that both short- and long-term goals and consequences are considered
before making a choice.
Decision making ability is an essential aspect of optimal adolescent development.
It is necessary for adolescents to be given the opportunity to practice
making personally meaningful choices if they are to be effective decision
makers (Jacobs & Ganzel, 1993); cognitive skill attainment alone does
not guarantee that adolescents will transfer such skills to real life situations (Keating, 1990).
B. W., & Davis-Berman, J. (1994). A review of the chance to grow project:
A care project for pregnant and parenting adolescents. Child and Adolescent
Social Work Journal, 11, 493-506.
M. J., Gara, M. A., Schuyler, T. F., Branden-Muller, M. A., & Sayette,
M. A. (1991). The promotion of social competence: Longitudinal study of
a prevention school-based program. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry,
A. J., & Eccles, J. S. (1993). Perceived parent-child relationships
and early adolescents' orientation toward peers. Developmental Psychology,
L., & Beyth-Marom, R. (1992). Risk taking in adolescence: A decision-making
perspective. Developmental Review, 12, 1-44.
B., Siegel, A. W., Cousins, J. H., & Rubovits, D. S. (1993). Adolescent
risk-taking: An analysis of problem behaviors in problem children. Journal
of Experimental Child Psychology, 55, 277-294.
J. E., & Ganzel, A. K. (1993). Decision-making in adolescence: Are
we asking the wrong question? Advances in Motivation and Achievement,
I. L., & Mann, L. (1977). Decision Making. New York: The Free Press.
D. P. (1990). Adolescent thinking. Feldman, S. S. & Elliott, G. R.
(eds.). At the threshold: The developing adolescent. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
L., Harmoni, R., & Power, C. (1989). Adolescent decision-making: The
development of competence. Journal of Adolescence, 12, 265-278.
J. D., & Adams, G. R. (1983). Adolescents and the decision-making
process. Theory Into Practice, 22, 98-104.
E. S., Reppucci, N. D., & Woolard, J. L (1995). Evaluation adolescent
decision making in legal contexts. Law and Human Behavior, 19, 221-244.
D. L., Tebes, J. K., Arthur, M. W., & Tapasak, R. C. (1992). Two-year
follow-up of a social-cognitive intervention to prevent substance use.
Journal of Drug Education, 22, 101-114.
S. S., & Clarke, B. A. (1992). Decision-making patterns in adolescent
mothers. Image: Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 24, 69-74.
P. V. (1993). The ability of adolescents to predict future outcomes. Part
1: Assessing predictive abilities. Adolescence, 28, 533-555.
P., & Kirby, D. (1984). Sexuality Education: A Curriculum for Adolescents.
Santa Cruz, CA: Network Publications.
J. & Danner, F. (1989). The adolescent as decision-maker: Applications
to development and education. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, Inc.