Building Up Your Teen’s Self-Efficacy – Part II

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Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More

If you missed Part I earlier this week, you can find that here.

How we respond to our teen’s mistakes is the key to steering their behavior. If we focus too much on keeping the rules or “doing the right thing” we risk losing the relationship and in turn influencing their behavior.


Our degree of tolerance of our teen’s mistakes often is an extension of how we interpret our OWN mistakes or imperfections. If we have little tolerance of our own imperfections, we can easily hold our children to a similar standard.

We largely parent from how we have been parented. We often unconsciously carry the same relational patterns from our family of origin into our present day family. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to increase your self-awareness and your awareness of your teen:

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Self-reflective questions

  • How were emotions communicated in your family of origin?
  • What are some of your own family of origin patterns that replicate the way you engage with your teen?
  • What is your typical response to your teen’s mistakes? Are you generally supportive or critical of them?
  • When your teen encounters adversity, do you respond in a way that builds resilience or do you give them an easy way out?
  • How much energy and effort to you place on correct behavior versus working to understand how the mistake is affecting them and then using that as a means of guidance for growth?

How to assess your teen’s self-efficacy

1. First, take an inventory of how your teen typically approaches a new task or new relationships: is it with initiative and a relative degree or confidence or with apprehension and reluctance?

2. When your teen starts something new, are they inclined to stop or contemplate quitting when they encounter adversity or do they see adversity as something that can be overcome with ongoing practice?

3. What is your typical response to their mistakes? Do you see mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve or are you critical of them or give them an easy out if they want to quit? Based upon those questions, how would you assess your teen’s self-efficacy or their perception of their abilities? Is it high, medium or low?

Building stronger self-efficacy and resilience in your teen

1. Approach mistakes as natural opportunities to learn more about your teen’s inner life. View mistakes, errors in judgment, immature reasoning, etc. as an invitation to engage in meaningful conversation about how the situation is affecting them. Communicate support, empathy and affirmation for the struggle. Listen with an emotional ear.

2. Create optimal challenges for your teen. An optimal challenge is a task that is just out of convenient reach for your teen. It stretches them, requires them to take some degree of risk, but is achievable. You are in the best position to know what this might look like for your teen. If you make it too hard, they are likely to give up. If you make it too easy, they are likely to be bored and quit. An optimal challenge builds confidence, competence and resiliency. Resiliency, once it is internalized, expects adversity and works to solve the problem instead of giving in.

3. Offer select autonomy-supportive choices to your teen. Autonomy-supportive choices give teens an opportunity to make age-appropriate choices. These opportunities though come with a parental disclaimer that their choices can expand when handled responsibly and may contract if not handled responsibly. Age-appropriate autonomy lets teens experiment with what it is like to be somewhat autonomous while still being dependent. Parents often find it difficult to stay on the road with this task. They either tend to be too permissive or too restrictive. Use your knowledge of your teen’s history with choice as a guide for where to begin and how much freedom of choice to allow. Mistakes will inevitably happen. Expect them.

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