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The ability to plan, initiate, and carry out daily activities takes place in the part of the brain just behind the forehead. We call this ability executive functioning. It involves the ability to be flexible, to control one’s behavior, to hold and use information in working memory, and to be self-aware. Executive functioning tends to improve with time and does not fully develop until age 25. Adolescents need to have practice that develops these abilities. Allowing your children to plan family events and vacations provides great practice.
It is probably wise to start with something simple like planning the evening meal. You can provide guidelines, such as how to make it a healthy meal that doesn’t cost too much, but then allow your child to decide what to have, check the groceries in stock, decide what needs to be purchased, and go with you to the store to buy the groceries. He can cook, serve, and clean up after the meal. This is great experience for him. Not only is he getting excellent practice using his executive functioning ability, but he is also learning important life skills. In the beginning, he might need considerable help doing this. With practice, he should be able to manage this pretty much on his own.
Another idea might be to allow your child to plan a family outing. She could research options in the area, pick somewhere interesting, find out how much it costs to go, figure out a time when the family is available, suggest when to go, and decide whether to ask a friend to go along. This could be a simple outing to the movies, a trip to a nearby town for the day, or a weekend adventure for the family.
Many parents are uncomfortable allowing children to make important decisions. Parents plan every minute of their children’s time to make sure there is no time to get in trouble. It is good to be involved and to know what your children are doing. It is important, however, for kids to have some unplanned time. This is especially true in the summer months when they are not busy with schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Kids can learn to manage their own time, plan events, and entertain themselves. If children are allowed to make more decisions, they will learn how to make decisions that have good consequences. They will develop the executive functioning ability they need to be successful in school and life.