Helping Teens Make Healthy Decisions


Maturing At 25

There are a number of reasons teenagers make risky choices that could alter their lives negatively long term (at-risk behaviors). Helping youth to understand these risks and develop coping skills is critical to their well-being.

Primary among the reasons is that their brains are still maturing, in fact, many neurologists tell us the brain will continue to mature and form critical thinking connections into their 20’s. Perhaps even as late as 25, according to Child Psychologist, Laverne Antrobus.

As Antrobus states, “Neuroscience has now shown the brain continues to develop in this later stage of adolescence from the ages of 18-25, and that a young person’s emotional maturity, judgment and self-awareness will all be affected until the prefrontal cortex of the brain has fully developed.” 1

Hot and Cold Decisions

James McCue, a lecturer in Psychology and Criminology, offers suggestions on how to help young people make healthier decisions. He points that there are “hot” decisions and “cold” decisions and a young person that can differentiate between the two is more likely to make better decisions. 2

A hot decision is a decision made in a stressful situation—particularly in front of peers or when emotions are running high. These decisions tend to have negative consequences for youth (and adults).

A cold decision is one that young people make when they have time to communicate with someone they trust or when peers aren’t pressuring them. These choices tend to be wiser and more mature. They are decisions that leave a young person with less risky consequences.

Our Challenge

Our challenge is to help young people differentiate between the two types of decisions and to help them “cool down” their hot decisions.

I’m encouraging our staff to use this language with young people and to help co-create strategies with the young person about actions they can take to cool down their decisions.

Already during our weekly discussions, we ask young people, “In light of your values, what were some of the high points in your week?” Also, “In light of your values, what were some of your challenges this week?” We could easily include a dialogue about hot and cold decisions at the time. For example;

  • “Do you think that was a hot decision or a cold decision?”
  • “How would you cool off that decision if you were to make it again?”
  • “Who are some resources you could turn to in order to cool off your decisions?”
  • “Let’s practice a strategy to contact those resources.”

Such strategies might include:

  1. Find a quiet space and practice mindfulness techniques before you make a choice.
  2. Tell those around you that you need some time to decide.
  3. Contact a trusted friend or mentor about their advice.

The emphasis is to buy the youth some time, so they can step out of the hot situation. The youth is far more likely to apply the suggestions if they had a hand in working on the solutions. Take the time to let them create strategies. I know it is easier to just tell them what to do, but it is far less effective—if effective at all.


1 Psychologists Now Believe You’re Not An Adult Until You’re 25, Annie Simon | 19 01 2018, The Debrief,

2 A parent’s guide to why teens make bad decisions, James McCue, January 21, 2018,



    Have Something to Share?

    Submit a News Post

    • Many years ago when developing our outreach to Youth in Detention in the Archdiocese of Detroit, MI, we had solicited Jerry Goebel to help train our volunteers. Jerry had developed a program called LifeCoach. It was a...

      Ida Johns, Detention System Outreach
      Read More
    • A Compelling Life... is filled with gentle invitations to reflect on life in all its' richness, beauty, joy, and sorrow. As a Catholic parent, I have worked with Jerry and his Web resources personally and...

      Dr. Dobie Moser, Catholic Family Ministries
      Read More
    • I have had the privilege of both watching Jerry work with youth and being taught by Jerry to use his methods with others. There are so many things I appreciate about it. The first thing I noticed is...

      Adelle T., Social Worker
      Read More