In recent years, newspaper articles, television specials, and other media events have focused on the numerous hard decisions faced by today's youth, often pointing to teen pregnancy, drug use, and delinquency as evidence of faulty judgment. Over the past 10 years, many groups—including parents, educators, policymakers, and researchers—have become concerned about the decision making of children and adolescents, asking why they make risky choices, how they can be taught to be better decision makers, and what types of age-related changes occur in decision making. Evidence of this concern comes from the multitude of decision-making programs currently being implemented in schools around the country, some at the explicit request of legislators trying to lower the numbers of teen pregnancies, drunken drivers, and substance abusers. Too often, these programs have been implemented with little regard to basic research on cognitive, emotional, and contextual changes that sometimes support and sometimes inhibit decision making.
Although many universities currently teach courses on decision making within psychology, education, and/or business, and those courses generally include sections on social judgment and decision making, developmental trends in decision making are often given sparse, if any, attention. Indeed, a quick scan of any child-development textbook reveals very few references to decision making. With few exceptions, even in adolescent textbooks, the processes underlying decision making are discussed only briefly, and when the topic is mentioned, the research focuses exclusively on reasoning capabilities and is typically rooted in traditional developmental models that may not