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Responsible decision making, a social and emotional skill

By Carrie Ann Olson

Bombarded by advertisements of what to buy, media messages of how to look and peer pressure of what to do, responsible decision making can be tough stuff. Every day, youth are tasked with promoting their own health, avoiding risky behaviors and dealing honestly and fairly with others. That’s decision making – a social and emotional skill.

Decision making can be defined as the process of making choices among possible alternatives. How can you help youth to have the skills for mastering this skill? There are many guides for you to use – including a new online course.

The ability to make decisions and solve problems on the basis of accurately defining decisions to be made, generating alternative solutions, anticipating the consequences of each and evaluating and learning from one’s decision are skills that are considered important to effective decision making. Our youth programs should be learning labs of safe opportunities for youth to learn decision-making skills and to practice these skills. Connecting decision-making skill building activities into multiple learning opportunities supports higher-level cognitive learning, as well as increased significance on the program’s influence in the development of decision making skills. Start by asking a question like “What would you choose?” related to the topic of the learning opportunity. Structuring this activity like a judging class will provide the needed structure to practice decision making. For example, suggest 2-4 options, and identify the pros and cons. You can check out a 4-H judging class sample on our website.    

We’re offering a new online program for youth in grades 4-8 to learn these skills. Consumer decision making online, starts next week. Participants will practice decision making and share with peers and adult online guides. They will have 12 weeks of activities that will take 1-2 hours weekly to complete. Online guides will offer a new video and challenge each week, plus constructive feedback and guidance, in a secure online environment. Participants and volunteer mentors can log on at their convenience to complete the challenges and provide feedback to other participants.

Youth decision making in group settings also provides the perfect learning lab for practicing decision making. Some of my favorite group decision making tools include:
  • Multi-voting is a simple process that helps you whittle down a large list of options to a manageable number.
    • Several rounds of voting, in which the list of alternatives becomes shorter and shorter. If you start with 10 alternatives, the top five may move to the second round of voting, and so on.
    • Each person has more than one vote until the last round, allowing them to indicate the strength of their support for each option.
    • Everyone votes in each cycle, so more people are involved in approving the final outcome than if only one vote was held.  Multi-voting helps group members narrow down a wide field of options so that the group decision is focused on the most popular alternatives. This makes reaching consensus possible, and gives an outcome that people can buy into.
  • Consensus building
    • Hear all ideas and group around themes.
    • Can advance innovative proposals often as a result.
    • If everyone has the power to block a decision, then his or her perspective is taken into account for mutual understanding.
How do you build in decision making opportunities for youth individually and as a group in your programs?

-- Carrie Ann Olson, Extension educator & associate Extension professor

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  1. Cognitive learning involves acquiring the knowledge and skills required for quick, effective learning. The skills you’ll acquire through cognitive learning include the ability to think abstractly, use logical reasoning, and make important decisions.Cognitive learning is the process of learning the skills that help you learn. Skills like critical thinking, logical reasoning, decision making, and more play a massive role in determining your ability to learn new information and make progress in life.Keep learning


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