Adolescent clients often have a hard time making good decisions, so I developed a little something that has helped me help them. I call it my “$100.00 Decisions” exercise. I’ll walk you through how I present it to a young man. I ask him to picture someone he knows who is two or three years old. If I were to ask the child to choose between having a handful of candy (like “M & M” candies) that the child could have right now or having a two-pound bag of the same candy after waiting fifteen minutes, which would the child pick? The teenager would accurately say, “The handful now.” I respond, “Yes. Every single time.” Then I ask, “Why? There is so much more in the two-pound bag.” The response is usually, “Because the child can’t wait.”
I then teach the principle that being able to postpone gratification is a mark of maturity. I also state that the teenager is more mature than the child and can therefore make wiser choices because he can better postpone gratification.
Next I toss my client a quarter-dollar coin. I ask him to consider two plans. Plan A is the twenty-five cent plan where he can receive a quarter every hour for twenty hours each day. This plan includes making easy decisions and he can spend the quarters immediately on whatever is available or he can save them up for later. Plan B (I pull out a $50.00 bill and let my client examine the money while we talk) is the $100.00 plan where you have to make good decisions and wait until the end of the week to get the $100.00. Which plan would you choose?
My client usually replies, “The $100.00 plan, of course, because it is more money.” I remind him that it is the harder plan and he would have to think well before choosing and he may tell me that it would still be worth it.
We then discuss a scenario of me driving an hour to work each way five days per week. I want to save time, so I drive over the speed limit enough to save ten minutes each way. If I do that for an entire year, I save myself over 85 hours. Is that type of driving representative of twenty-five cent decisions or $100.00 decisions? We review the handout and see that it certainly fits the criteria of twenty-five cent behavior. We discuss what would likely be the result of that type of driving—speeding citations; loss of license and independence; increased costs of legal fees, insurance premiums, and other types of transportation; more time involved arranging rides; etc. Under those circumstances, how quickly would I burn up 85 hours? Very quickly. So, in the end, I would lose much more than I gained.
Then I bring it close to home for the teenager. I ask him what $100.00 decisions he has made today. I add to his response those choices of which I am aware—getting himself ready for the day, going to school, keeping his appointment with me, etc. Then I ask him what twenty-five cent decisions he has made recently.
I ask him who benefits most by him making $100.00 decisions. He would likely reply that he does. I remind him that it is not his schoolmates, parents or other authority figures who benefit most by his good choices—He does. All it takes for him to gain those benefits is to pause, think about what is the best decision and do it—even it he has to postpone his immediate gratification. To the extent he makes great choices shows the level of maturity he has developed. Does he want to be an impulsive child or with a little thought behave more as an adult? It is up to him.
He is assigned the homework challenge to make only $100.00 decisions in the coming week. I demonstrate my confidence in his ability to do so and remind him that receiving the benefits of $100.00 decisions is completely in his hands.
He leaves my office with a better understanding of what he gains by making great choices and by delaying gratification. He also feels more confident and empowered to make it happen. And as a reminder to make $100.00 decisions, he also leaves with the quarter—I keep my $50.00 bill!
Bob Stahn has a general counseling practice. He specializes in relationship counseling and most recently PTSD and trauma.