Development of self-regulation in adolescents

of three

Phases in the development of self-regulation in adolescents

Self-regulated learning is defined as the degree to which students are motivationally, meta cognitively and behaviorally active participants in their own learning process which led to more effective learners. According to Zimmerman and Schunk there are four phases to adolescent development of self-regulation. These phases are observation, imitation, self-control and self-regulation. Each phase is described in detail below.


Observation is acquiring the knowledge of various skills. This phase involves learning the major features of skills and strategies cognitively.


Imitation is using the skills acquired during the observation phase. The adolescents will emulate those they observed, but according to Zimmerman and Schunk, they will not imitate the observed exactly. An example they gave in their paper was a student might imitate the type of question someone asked but not duplicate their precise wording.

The major difference between the first two levels is that observational learning involves acquisition only at an observational level, whereas emulative learning also includes a performance capability.


Self-control is internalizing the skills imitated and using them independently when performing similar tasks. Self-control is still dependent on representational standards of the performance of the person they observed, meaning they could potentially switch between behaviors based on what they continue to observe. Self-control is also still dependent on the self-reinforcement that stems from behaviorally matching these observations.

Adolescence at this point have not developed a mental representation of the skill or strategy independent of that displayed by the person originally observed, nor have they mentally modified the skill or strategy based on what they believe will be most effective.


Self-regulation allows adolescents to systematically adapt their learning strategies to changing personal and contextual conditions. At this phase the adolescent can decide when and how to employ these strategies. The adolescent chooses when to use a strategy and varies its features self-regulatively with little or no residual dependence on the person they originally observed during this phase.


While Zimmerman and Schunk's paper, "Social Origins of Self-Regulatory Competence" was published in 1997 it is still widely accepted and referenced today, as in this paper from 2015 and this paper from 2017.

Here is the spreadsheet requested to be filled out.

of three

Strategies to support the development of self-regulation in adolescents

Self-regulation can be defined as the act of managing thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed actions, including a variety of actions necessary for success in school, relationships, and the workplace. Zimmerman and Schunk identified four phases in the development of self-regulation; observation, imitation, self-control and self-regulation.

Despite popular belief it is still important to promote self-regulation strategies for adolescents. During adolescence, brain systems that seek rewards and process emotions are more developed than cognitive control systems responsible for good decision-making and future planning. This means that self-regulation is developmentally “out of balance” at this age. This means self-regulation skills continue to develop through young adulthood. Below you will find strategies which can be used to help adolescents continue to develop their self-regulation skills. Strategies are broken down by phase. Please note that some strategies can be applied to multiple phases.


During the observation phase the adolescent will acquire the knowledge of various skills. This will be accomplished either with direct observation or verbal instruction. This is a very important phase because this is when the adolescent will absorb what they are seeing or hearing. One significant strategy in this phase is teaching. Effectively teaching skills such as goal-setting and mindfulness could potentially make the development of the remaining three phases easier.

Teaching goal-setting involves not only recognizing goals, but how to plan to make those goals. It makes it easier to get started on and maintain their goals more reliably during inconvenient times such as holidays or busy days, when goal-directed actions are unpleasant and when goal-directed actions are easy to forget.

Mindfulness has been defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. Mindfulness instruction is intended to enhance awareness of and attunement to what is happening internally and externally with friendly curiosity and without judgment. The nonjudgmental awareness that is enhanced in mindfulness interventions is theorized to facilitate self-regulatory processes and coping, particularly during stressful experiences.


Imitation is using the skills acquired during the observation phase. One strategy to implement during this phase is to coach kids through the difficult situations and provide a supportive framework — clinicians call it “scaffolding” the behavior you want to encourage — until they can handle these challenges on their own. An example of this could be helping a student with difficult math homework. Instead of hovering and attempting to help with every question (which in turn could just frustrate the student more), help with one question and have them attempt another. If they start feeling frustrated again they might get up and walk around, take a break and get a drink. They will attempt to emulate the calm you originally showed them and realize there is a solution.


Self-control is internalizing the skills imitated and using them independently when performing similar tasks. During this phase the adolescent will essentially be practicing the skill. One strategy to support development of self-control is offer feedback focused on strategy. The feedback adolescents need is non-judgmental and non-emotional: what went wrong, and why, and how they can fix it next time. With this feedback an adolescent can learn more appropriate ways to respond to certain situations and fine tune their independent use of the skills learned and acquired. And of course, continuing to encourage mindfulness practices will be a great benefit.


Self-regulation allows adolescents to systematically adapt their learning strategies to changing personal and contextual conditions. In this phase adolescents will also greatly benefit from feedback. But, mindfulness will be the greatest strategy employed. At this phase the adolescent will be able to focus on the here and now—not what might have been or what they're worried could be. They will be able to distance themselves from a situation without immediately reacting to it in order to focus on what the appropriate response should be.


While it might be frustrating to help an adolescent develop self-regulation skills, consistency is key and the benefits are great. Results from 60 studies of adolescent improvement of self-regulation skills show:
• Strong and consistent improvement in cognitive regulation
• Small but significant improvements in health, mental health, and delinquency
• Substantial benefits from mindfulness programs in particular, across both cognitive and emotional regulation, as well as for stress and mental health.

Here is the requested spreadsheet.

of three

Top resources on the development of self-regulation in adolescents

As per your request, I have identified several important academic centers of study, research articles, and tests that study and measure self-regulation in older adolescents. All of these sources are located within the United States, and mostly focus on ages 12-18. It should be noted that some research articles are older than Wonder's standard two year cut off. Each article that is older than 2016 has been chosen due to its number of citations in other academic works; as well as its appearance in a number of places where the research is presented as still relevant. For each research paper, I note the year in which it was published. Please find my full findings below.

PrOmoting Self-Regulation in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Practice Brief

This is a very recently published brief (2017), co-authored and supported by the three most seminal and prevalent organizations focusing on self-regulation and brain development of children and teenagers in the United States. These organizations are listed out individually below, but are: The Duke Center for Child and Family Policy for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services, and The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

This is one of a series of publicly available research papers from the research cooperation of these three organizations. This particular research provides very up-to-date best practices for measuring and developing self-regulation in children and teenagers.

The Duke Center for Child and Family Policy for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF)

The ACF is supported by and located at Duke University. Besides the aforementioned joint research efforts with the FPG Graham Child Development Institute and the US government's Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, the ACF has a number of current research projects focusing on adolescent development. The most relevant to teenage self-regulation is the ACF's Center for the Study of Adolescent Risk and Resilience (C-StARR). The full mission and purpose statement is located here, but states, among other things: " "Through its research support cores...C-StARR enhances the sampling, methods, and analyses of ongoing studies of adolescent self-regulation and substance use."

The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute

The FPG Child Development Institute is supported by and located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Besides its joint research with the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation and Duke's AFC, the FPG conducts individual initiative, projects, and research. Most relevant to self-regulation in teenagers is FPG's research into Physical and Social Health, which include academic papers on self-regulation in children, early adolescence, and late adolescence.

The Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services

As its very long name implies, the Office of Planning Research and Evaluation is a "sub-branch" to the Administration for Children and Families, which in turn is itself a "sub-branch" of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Understandably, as a large governmental organization, OPRE has a large amount of research studies and interest, including family economic self sufficiency, foster care, responsible fatherhood, and beyond. However, most information relevant to self-regulation in teenagers can be found in the Self-Sufficiency, Welfare and Employment wing of OPRE's research.

Adolescent Self-Regulatory Inventory (ASRI)

Although first published in 2007, the ASRI, or Adolescent Self-Regulatory Inventory is a still used assessment of teenagers and their self-regulatory and cognitive skills. It assesses both short-term and long-term self-regulation using 36 questions, which the teenager answers on a scale of one to five, with one being "not at all true for me" to five being "really true for me. This is still a commonly used measure of teenage self-regulation, and has been thoroughly peer reviewed.

Collection of Academic Articles on teenage Self Regulation

Listed below are eight peer-reviewed academic research articles addressing specific topics on teenage self-regulation, including the role on self-regulation peers, friends, parents, and romantic relationships have, chronic illness and self-regulation, drug use, sexual health, and risk taking. They are listed in order of most recently published, to oldest. Those older than 2016, which make up the majority of these selected academic papers, were chosen because of their large number of citations (proving that the information provided is considered important and still relevant) and the uniqueness of the information (aka, the information could not be found elsewhere). Each contains a short excerpt from the paper's abstract, summarizing the article's findings.

1.) "Peer Effects on self-regulation in adolescence depend on the nature and quality of the peer interaction"
Published 2017

From the abstract: "...different dimensions of adolescent self-regulation are influenced by the nature of the peer context: basic cognitive functions are altered by mere exposure to peers, whereas more complex decision-making and emotion regulation processes are influenced primarily by the quality of that exposure.

2.) "Improving self-regulation in adolescents: current evidence for the role of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy"
Published 2016

From the abstract: "Several studies demonstrate that mindfulness approaches can effectively reduce negative emotional reactions that result from and/or exacerbate psychiatric difficulties and exposure to stressors among children, adolescents, and their parents."

3.) "The Development of Adolescent Self-Regulation: Reviewing the Role of Parent, Peer, Friend, and Romantic Relationships"
Published 2014

From the abstract: "This review summarizes extant literature and proposes that in order to understand how adolescent behavioral and emotional self-regulation develops in the context of social relationships one must consider that each relationship builds upon previous relationships and that self-regulation and relationship context develop."

4.) "Topical Review: Adolescent Self-Regulation as a Foundation for Chronic Illness Self-Management"
Published 2014

From the abstract: "Research has identified multiple individual (e.g., self-efficacy, coping, and adherence) and interpersonal factors (parental monitoring and friend support) that are sources of risk and resilience to adolescent chronic illness self-management."

5.) "Adolescent Neurocognitive Development, Self-Regulation, and School-Based Drug Use Prevention"
Published 2013

From the abstract: "We discuss evidence from school-based as well as laboratory research that suggests that suitable training may improve adolescents’ executive brain functions that underlie self-regulation abilities and, as a result, help prevent drug use and abuse."

6.) "Positive Development in Adolescence: The Development and Role of Intentional Self-Regulation"
Published 2008

From the abstract: "The model of Selection, Optimization, and used as a means to conceptualize and
index intentional self-regulation in adolescence. The relation between intentional self-regulation and positive development of youth is examined."

7.) "Sexual Risk Taking in Adolescence: The Role of Self-Regulation and Attraction to Risk"
Published 2003

From the abstract: "Analyses of individual sexual behaviors indicated that self-regulation may affect choices made after becoming sexually active (e.g., number of partners) rather than the initiation of sexual activity."

8.) "Role of Affective Self-Regulatory Efficacy in Diverse Spheres of Psychological Functioning"
Published 2003

From the abstract: "Self-efficacy to regulate positive and negative affect is accompanied by high efficacy to manage one's academic development, to resist social pressures for antisocial activities, and to engage oneself with empathy in others' emotional experiences."


To wrap up, the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services, and The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute have all been identified as important centers for the study of self-regulation in adolescence in the United States.

From Part 03