Decision Roles

Dictatorial Permissive Authoritative Partner Coach

Other People's Various Roles Affect Your Decisions

Frequently, we reach a decision with input from peers or knowledgeable people. For many decisions to have positive outcomes, we may need to gain approval or achieve consensus with others.

For example, a high school youth may be considering whether to spend a year as an exchange student. This decision requires the involvement of many—in particular, parents—for their agreement and support. Decision roles change as we grow up. A good parent makes most of the important decisions for a 3-year-old. A young adult of 20 should make most of his or her own decisions.

So, somewhere in between, the roles have to transition. The transitioning of decision roles is one of the most difficult adult-youth interactions. Parents and youth can significantly improve these interactions by clearly defining their roles in making specific decisions. The same holds true for interactions between youth and other people of authority—like teachers.

Any of the roles outlined on this page may be appropriate, depending on the decision at hand.

Dictatorial and Permissive Roles

Two extreme roles are the dictatorial and the permissive. In the dictatorial mode, the parent declares, “You must do what I say.” In the permissive mode, the parent says, “You may do whatever you want.” If you have seen the movies Dead Poet Society or Thirteen, you know that the extremes do not work well and neither role teaches anything about how to make a decision.

Participative Roles

A more involved and participative decision process creates a better relationship and brings learning opportunities about the decision at hand and about how to make a decision. We distinguish at least three participative roles:

Authoritative: The parent (or other adult) engages in a joint decision-making process with the youth but reserves final veto power.

Partner: The parent engages in a joint decision-making process with the youth, with the intention of reaching a consensus.

Coach: The parent helps the youth make a quality choice. In the end, it is the youth’s decision to make. Once a decision is declared, the parent/adult and youth can decide jointly (or negotiate) the appropriate roles.

Different roles are needed for different decisions and at different times.