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How to Teach Your Teen Problem-Solving Skills


Father and son repairing bicycle in garage
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Teens often don’t learn a process to help them solve problems. Instead, they may struggle to address problems with friends, family, or school.

Poor Problem-Solving Skills

Teens with poor problem-solving skills may struggle in many areas of their life. When they encounter an unfamiliar problem, they may become overwhelmed and unable to resolve it on their own.

Many teens who lack problem-solving skills will just try to avoid the problem completely. They’ll ignore it in hopes that it will go away. Unfortunately, most problems don’t simply disappear.

For example, a teen who is feeling frustrated because he doesn’t know how to do his math homework, may avoid doing it. Instead of talking to the teacher, he may accept a zero on his grade. Then, because he’s missed some crucial information, he may struggle to keep up with the class. The more homework he misses, the less he understands math and the harder it becomes to catch up. 

At other times, teens with poor problem-solving skills will immediately spring into action. However, rather than thinking about potential solutions, they’ll impulsively respond with the first answer that comes to mind. Often, the first answer isn’t the best way to solve the problem.

Teens with appropriate problem-skills are able to critically analyze their options. They can think about the pros and cons of solution prior to attempting to solve the problem. Teens who have learned how to do this feel more equipped to tackle problems they encounter.

Teach Problem-Solving Skills

Teens face problems every single day. Sometimes, they experience simple problems, such as forgetting a homework assignment. At other times, however, they experience more complex problems, such as bullying. Teens need strategies to help them resolve problems of all sizes.

Teach your teen a step-by-step process to help him solve problems. Teach him how to stop and think about several possible solutions before solving the problem.

Encourage your teen to identify at least four solutions before trying to solve a problem. Then, identify the potential risks and benefits of each solution before choosing one. This can help teens recognize that there are many ways to solve a problem.

Encourage your teen to write down potential solutions to a problem. It can be helpful for them to see their choices on paper as they try to make a decision.

Solve Problems Together

If your teen struggles to solve problems, work together as a team. Use the opportunity to teach your teen problem-solving strategies as you solve the problem together.

Role model problem-solving strategies without solving the problem for your teen. Instead, assist your teen in identifying solutions on his own.

For example, if your child is falling behind in school, sit down and ask, “What do you think would be helpful to you?” Write down a list of ideas such as talking to his teacher, staying after for extra help, getting a tutor, or devoting more time to homework. Then discuss the pros and cons of each one and work on developing a concrete action plan to address the problem.

If your teen insists he can’t come up with any solutions, you can offer your ideas and ask him to weigh the potential risks and benefits. Then, allow him to choose which strategy he wants to try first.

Teach your child that problems aren’t always solved in one attempt. If the solution he tries first isn’t successful, encourage him to have a back-up plan. This will help your child understand he doesn’t need to give up if he doesn’t immediately solve the problem.

Encourage Independence

Teenagers often have creative solutions to their problems. Your child just might need some help implementing the solution or staying motivated to follow through with the solution.

Over time, encourage your teen solve more of his problems on his own. The goal is for him to be able to solve problems independently without much guidance or input. As your teen shows increased problem-solving skills and maturity, give him more freedom to solve problems independently.

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