“Are you on cannabis?” asked the sandy-haired, uncomfortable-looking teen.
He was one of several hundred exhausted high school students waiting for final results at a debate tournament on a college campus. I was one of several dozen similarly exhausted judges.
I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly. “Excuse me? Are you serious?”
“Yeah. Your eyes are really red,” he trailed off, realizing that my patently unamused glare was the opposite of the acceptance he’d liked to have seen. My eyes were actually quite red, but that was entirely the fault of not being able to sleep in my uncomfortable hotel bed.
“Do you really think it’s a good idea to ask a complete stranger about illegal drugs?” I asked him.
He looked a little pale, and then a little scared. “No.”
I know that face. I’d seen it before — in my mirror. It was the face of someone who knows that they’d just made a very bad decision.
Everybody makes bad decisions. Some of mine were fairly innocuous, such as the time I went on a crazy roller coaster after downing five Butterbeers at a Harry Potter theme park. Some were potentially fatal, such as the time I decided to take a road trip after two all-nighters and ended up wrapping my Nissan around a tree.
Making decisions is an art that gets easier with time and experience. But good decisions are absolutely achievable at all ages.
For example, you can use the method of writing down a list of pluses and minuses when making a decision. Write down all the positives and negatives on either side of the paper. Be comprehensive, real and don’t cheat. Seeing the whole picture laid out in front of you can help you choose the right path.
You can also do research, or ask adults who’ve already made good decision to help you. Want to be a doctor? Set up some time to shadow a local physician to see what they do on a typical day. Want to jump off that cliff into the river? Find out what’s underneath the surface of the water first (your science teacher might know).
Listen to your gut. If you’re not sure you should get in the car and drive with a friend who’s had a beer or two at a party, don’t get in the car.
Don’t make any big decisions while you’re exhausted, angry or sad. Research shows that people make better decisions when their minds are rested and calm. Maybe the teen who asked whether I’d been smoking pot would have realized it was crazy to ask me that question if he, too, had gotten more sleep.
Don’t kick yourself over and over for decisions gone bad. Tough situations and painful times often teach us more than happiness and bliss, and, properly processed, those learning experiences are some of the best you’re going to get.
Finally, make the decision on your own. Don’t fall victim to peer pressure. However great your friends are, they aren’t you and they can’t speak for what you want. Don’t worry about what they think. Say no to crazy dares, to cigarettes and drugs, even if it might seem embarrassing.
I wonder if that’s what happened to the teen at the tournament. When he left me, he walked back over to a group of giggling, laughing friends. Had it been a dare?
His question might not have been so funny, if I had been a campus cop. With a little practice, you’ll make the right decision.