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Making Difficult Decisions

This month's learning activity is a decision-making model, a helpful way to clarify one's choices in the face of almost any type of decision. For a teenager struggling with the decision about how to handle an unplanned pregnancy, it may provide a framework for systematically working through the various options and understanding why she is making the choice that is right for her. It includes the following sections:

  • The Goal of the activity,

  • An outline of the Decision-Making Model, and

  • The following worksheet:
    Note: Links on this page with the Portable Document Format icon (pdf) require Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and print them. You can download this free software at:


    At the completion of this activity, youth will be able to use the decision-making model to make a difficult decision.

    The Decision-Making Model

    To become familiar with the following decision-making model, use the Making a Difficult Decision Worksheet to apply the decision-making model to a decision you have faced or are facing (not necessarily a pregnancy). The same technique can work with a pregnant teenager: ask her to use the worksheet to practice working through the steps for a less overwhelming problem (such as whether to divulge a secret) before applying the model to the issue of what to do about her pregnancy.

    Step 1: Define the problem or situation. In this example, a definition of the problem might be, "I am pregnant, but I am not ready to be a parent."
    Step 2: Consider all the alternatives.
    What are all the possible options? Note that they may not be limited to the three discussed here — raising the child herself, placing the baby for adoption or foster care, or terminating the pregnancy. Several of these may have variations. For example, "raising the child herself" could mean truly by herself, with her partner, with her parents, etc.
    Step 3: Consider the consequences of each alternative.

    What are all the positive and negative consequences, short-term and long-term, of each alternative? For a pregnant teenager, it might make sense to consider three time frames (at least): right now (while still in high school), in 5 years, and in 10 years.

    Step 4: Consider your values. We each bring a set of values to the table — a blend of our own personal views and the influences of others around us. Values might be religiously based (e.g., against abortion), or broader (e.g., being independent, or wanting to give a child the best possible circumstances in which to grow up).

    Clarify which ones are shaping the choices. Note that in some cases, personal values might be on a collision course with those of close family members. This doesn't mean that one set of values is right and the other is wrong. In a teen pregnancy situation, emphasize that she must make the decision that is right for her — and that means considering her own values, as she defines and interprets them.
    Step 5: Consider the impact on other people. Many people are potentially affected by each of these scenarios: parents, siblings, partners, other relatives. Although the impact on them may not be the driving force in the decision, it is certainly an important factor and affects the day-to-day circumstances surrounding the choice.
    Step 6: Choose one alternative. After carefully thinking through each alternative, choose the one that seems most appropriate based on each of these factors: your own values, the positive and negative consequences, present and future goals, and the effect on others.
    Step 7: Implement the decision. Do what it takes to implement the decision. Map out resources, time frames, and specific steps.
    Step 8: Reflect. After a brief time for reflection, return to the alternative and the reasons you chose it. Does it still feel right? Have any of the variables changed? If so, repeat the steps to see whether changed perceptions or information lead to a different choice.