One of the best ways we can prepare our teens for success as adults is to help them develop self-regulation. More than intellectual abilities, athletic skills or musical talents, self-control enables focus and determination. A person with self-control can resist distraction and stay focused through difficult circumstances.
In his book, Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence, Laurence Steinberg explains that the capacity of self-regulation is required for determination more than any other. And determination is more predictive of real-world success than intellect or talent.
If you think about it, this makes sense. The people who succeed are generally determined to do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals. Someone can be very intelligent, yet do nothing with that ability if they have no determination. Likewise with athletics or any other endeavor.
In chapter 7, Steinberg gives “a scientifically proven prescription for helping a child develop self-regulation.” Parents who do the three things well nourish a calm, competent and confident teenager – essential factors to develop self-regulation.
Following are the three things Steinberg prescribes for parents to do to help their teenagers by secure, competent and self-assured. Do these well, and you will nourish the capacity for self-regulation in your teenager.
1. Be Warm
You cannot be too loving. It’s not so much about how you feel about your teenager as it is about how they perceive your love. When you are generous with praise, affectionate and responsive to their emotional needs, your child will feel loved, valued and protected. This allows children to understand the world as a safe place and feel calmer on their own.
Tell them you love them everyday. Shower them with affection. Make physical affection a daily part of your relationship (kiss them goodbye, hug them after school, rub their shoulders as they do their homework).
Work at making your home a place where your teenager can relax and escape from their problems.
2. Be Firm
It’s easy to be reluctant about imposing limits on your teenager’s behavior. We don’t want to make our children feel controlled and pressured. However, structure makes children feel safe. They learn how to regulate themselves by being regulated.
We need to have clearly articulated rules that our teens are expected to follow. As your teenager matures and develops more responsibility, these rules and consequences will need to change. But these changes should take place gradually as our teenagers develop their ability to regulate themselves.
Make your expectations clear. Remember that your teenager is not an adult yet. Children do not necessarily understand expectations that aren’t clearly explained even if they seem obvious to us.
Think through your rules and expectations and make sure they make sense. Explain the logic behind them and ask your teenager for their opinion. This tells your child that their opinion matters to you.
Most importantly, be consistent. Steinberg clearly states, “The single greatest parental contributor to poor self-control in children is inconsistent parenting.” Enforcing rules unpredictably is confusing. Helpful ways to be consistent are to establish daily routines that help your children know what to expect.
3. Be Supportive
The idea here is to give your children just enough responsibility so that they feel the benefits if they succeed but not suffer severely if they fail. This strikes the balance between what your teenager can already handle and what they will soon be ready to handle.
Supporting a child in this way helps self-regulation become more easy and automatic.
Do your best to set your child up to succeed and praise their accomplishments. When praising, focus on the effort they make not the outcome. Focusing on the effort encourages them to work hard and give their best.
Help your teenager think through decisions rather than making the decision for them whenever possible. What seems obvious to you isn’t always obvious to your child. Help them think through the factors of the decision in order to come to a good decision
Sometimes you will need to protect your child. When an activity is overly dangerous, unethical or illegal you should not allow it. Make sure to explain your decision and why you made it.
As much as possible, permit your child to make their own decisions. This develops competence. Everyone learns by making mistakes. Give your teenager the opportunity to make decisions and learn from their mistakes (as long as it doesn’t jeopardize health, well-being or future).
Although the prescription for helping your child develop self-regulation is simply written in three steps, it’s definitely a challenge!
Do not be discouraged. Take one step at a time as you seek to be warm, firm and supportive.
As always, I would love to help you succeed as a parent! Do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.