Thursday, November 17, 2011

Trial and error

I (Richard) am a product of the Harvard Business School, where everything is taught and learned by the case study method, and the whole idea is to put yourself in hypothetical situations with imagined challenges and problems in order to think through in advance the pros and cons of certain actions and to practice decision making and analysis vicariously—to make decisions with a cool head and with proper calculations and ahead of time rather than at the moment of pressure and urgency. If grownups need this kind of training and preventative medicine, why not give the same thing to our children?!

Trial and error is one of the worst (and most painful) ways to learn and to choose. We should do everything possible to help our kids avoid the pain and to think things through in advance when they can be calm and analytical and can apply their best thinking and their best instincts to things. And the best way we have found to do that is this “Decisions in Advance” method. It literally gives kids ownership because they have thought through the choice and made it, therefore, they own it. It is theirs. And because they own it, they will be inclined to protect it and to keep it. It is not a guarantee, but it is a valuable barrier that will be one more line of protection between our kids and the ever growing array of mistakes that are laid out so attractively before them.

The case study or decision in advance methodology does not only apply to the avoidance of bad choices. It can also be helpful in making good and potential-fulfilling choices before the less beneficial detours become evident and distracting in our kids lives. For example, the decisions in advance list might include “To graduate from college” or “To find a way to help the disadvantaged”. One teenager signed and dated and decided in advance to sit by someone in the high school lunch room once a week who was by themselves or looked like they needed a friend” It is amazing what kids come up with when presented with the opportunity (and with the encouragement of a praising and interested parent).

Using this idea with mid to older teens is not nearly as easy or simple, but it can still often be extremely useful. With older adolescents it usually requires some “personal testimonial” from a parent like “You know, I wish I had done this kind of thinking more when I was your age. We all make some choices we wish we could change, but we can sometimes start over and decide how we will do something from now on. I still do that, in fact, I have some “decisions in advance” I have made as an adult, and I want share them with you .”

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