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It can be hard for parents to know how to talk to their kids. We want the best for them. We hope they make wise decisions. Often, however, we struggle to know how we can practically help them make good decisions.

It might not be as difficult as we think. 

People have observed basic patterns of making a good decision for millennia, and Christians have shown how Scripture perfects that understanding. For these reasons, the answer to how we can help our kids make good decisions may not be as elusive as we first thought. 

Here, I want to list four criteria that every child (and adult) can learn to help them make good choices in life. 

First, a good choice requires wisdom to know right from wrong

The Bible often identifies wisdom with the practical ability to choose right from wrong. Simply read the Book of Proverbs to see examples. But wisdom (or prudence) takes practice. Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil,” 

The mature believer trains their ability to discern right from wrong “by constant practice.” Wisdom, the ability “to distinguish good from evil,” takes work. 

What are the sources of wisdom? The highest and final source of wisdom is the Bible. Scripture corrects and clarifies natural wisdom. Second, God gave people a conscience which judges whether or not we have done “the work of the law [which] is written on [our] hearts” (Rom 2:15). Third, parents through their life experience accumulate practical wisdom, and they can share that wisdom with their children. 

Second, a good choice requires doing the right thing

Knowing what is right is the first step; but we must do what is right. After all, doing righteousness is what God demands. 

What does God require of us, Micah asks. He answers: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Doing justice is key. Doing the right thing is another way to say a choice requires justice. Justice does. Wisdom discerns. 

Third, a good choice requires doing the right thing courageously

Doing the right thing is much easier than knowing the right thing. Romans 1:32 identifies the sinfulness of humans who know what is right but don’t do it: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” 

The social pressure to do evil, despite knowing right from wrong, makes doing the right thing hard or embarrassing or harmful to us. We must have the courage to overcome the potential harm to us whether that is social harm or even physical harm. Doing the right thing is right because it’s right. Have courage.

And to have courage, children need to practice courage daily. So do adults. Eventually, it becomes second-nature. We act courageously because we are courageous. Habits shape who we become. 

Fourth, a good choice requires self-control so that the fear of or experience of harm does not overwhelm us while doing the right thing

The fear of harm sometimes makes doing the right thing feel impossible. We sweat. Get anxious. Panic. Self-control or temperance steadies while we act courageously while doing the right thing. 

The Bible talks about this virtue frequently. For example, Peter says, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness…” (2 Pet 1:5–6). Paul frequently makes similar comments. For instance, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Cor 9:27).

A good choice requires one to discern right from wrong and then do the right thing chosen with courage and self-control. 

At the end of the day, we must master our fears or worries in order to create a habit of doing justice. God requires it of us. So we had better learn how to do so by constant practice. Parents can help children by mentoring and guiding them through their minor fears in order to build resilience in them, to make them antifragile. 

Conclusion

Every parent can help their children make good decisions in life by teaching them these four criteria for making a good choice:   

(1) A good choice requires wisdom to know right from wrong

(2) A good choice requires doing the right thing

(3) A good choice requires doing the right thing courageously

(4) A good choice requires self-control so that the fear of or experience of harm does not overwhelm us while doing the right thing

Some of you have probably wondered why I have omitted the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love which must play a role. They do. In a second article, I will share how Christians have thought about making good and godly choices in life which do not always map onto the general notion of making a good choice. 

To illustrate, it may not seem wise to lay down one’s life for our friends. But love transforms wisdom, justice, courage, and self-control. So dying for others out of love transforms and perfects wisdom. Faith in Christ, hope in the resurrection, and a heart of love through the Holy Spirit bring all the natural virtues to perfection. 

What I wanted to do here was simply to give a fourfold criteria for making a good choice in life, which people almost everywhere have recognized in one form or another for millennia. The revelation of God in Scripture brings these observations to perfection. I plan to write on this topic next. But grace does not destroy but perfects nature. And so knowing the above fourfold criteria still helps us practically to think about making good choices. 

And so as parents, we have some hooks in our minds now that we can use to help our children make good decisions in life. A good choice requires one to discern right from wrong and then do the right thing chosen with courage and self-control. 

   

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