Topic 2 Empowering Youth’s Autonomy and Self-esteem Issues

SDT aims to explain human motivation and personality. SDT suggests that self-determination increases people’s sense of control over their own choices and lives and allows them to feel more motivated to act in their own favor. The SDT defines three basic psychological universal needs that people need to satisfy in order to be motivated to grow and change:

  • Autonomy, which refers to the need to choose one’s own behavior and goals.
  • Competence, which refers to the need to feel competent.
  • Relatedness, which refers to the need to feel meaningfully connected to others.

The fulfillment of these needs is vital to the person’s wellbeing and psychological growth.

One important concept in the SDT that is interrelated to the need of autonomy is intrinsic motivation. Intrinsically motivated activities refer to activities that are volitional, and people follow their personal interests and the behavior’s inherent rewards (f.e. reading because it is a fun activity). On the other hand, extrinsically motivated activities refer to activities that are driven by extrinsic factors, such as rewards or threats (f.e. studying to get good grades). These factors can undermine autonomy and lead to less intrinsic motivation.

Autonomy support predicts autonomous self-regulation

➥  By cultivating autonomy, children can have a shield against having their behavior effortlessly manipulated by others, especially towards hazardous and health threatening activities, including addictions.

In practical way, how can parents and teachers be more autonomy supportive?

Developing a strong, open and non-judgmental relationship with children is key since it paves the way for being autonomy supportive, because:

  • Having a deep and respectful relationship can enhance positive feelings about themselves and be less likely to succumb to peer pressure.
  • Having a trusting relationship with an adult can motivate children/adolescents to defend and protect this bond, by living up to the adult’s expectations.
  • Even if children/adolescents do give in to an addictive behavior, a strong bond with a loving adult can help them avoid the behavior whatsoever or at least stop them from developing an addiction.
Strategies to enhance youth’s autonomy

Offer unconditional love

Develop a deep and strong bond with the child/adolescent, spend time together, and engage in commonly fun activities. Appreciate their efforts.

Reinforce open communication

Cultivate a non-judgmental and safe space where children/adolescents feel comfortable to share their feelings, fears and mistakes.

Establish and preserve the limits

Establish reasonable expectations, set rational consequences, be consistent

Explain value and offer rationale

Explain the value of the rules or your request

Validate children’s feelings

Acknowledge and accept their feelings, Teach them to accept every possible feeling as something natural

Create opportunities for choice making

Offer age-appropriate opportunities to make their own choices, encourage them to make an effort and be persistent.

Understand that the child is growing up

Gradually teach them how to take care of themselves, respect their growing need for privacy and independence.

Rosenberg (1965) stated that self-esteem is one’s positive or negative attitude toward oneself and one’s evaluation of one’s own thoughts and feelings overall in relation to oneself.

Empowering self-esteem in youth

A variety of studies have pointed out that low self-esteem is strongly associated with addictive behaviors.

Low feelings of self-worth can predict engagement with hazardous behaviors, such as the use of smoke, alcohol and stronger drugs, and is also associated with  problematic Internet use, since the Internet provides opportunities for youngsters to feel more confident in the virtual world.

  • Children come up with their own ways of doing things. Embracing these intricacies and unique characteristics will only encourage them to remain true to themselves as they grow older. Letting them make their own decisions and avoiding judgement will provide them with the creative freedom they need to explore what interests them.
  • As you introduce your child to different aspects of the world around them, they can begin to appreciate things outside of what they do on a normal basis. Something as simple as taking them to the grocery store or farmer’s market can be educational to them and show them how the world works at a young age.
  • It is natural to want to keep your child away from harm as best you can, but teaching them to get back up when they fall down is a crucial lesson to learn while growing up. As they learn to overcome obstacles, their self-confidence blossoms.
  • Kids are actually very intuitive when it comes to picking up on things you say and the way you say them. Providing them with sincere praise when they deserve it goes a lot farther then just saying “Good job!” every time they complete something. Give specifics as to why they did a good job to show that you care about the hard work they put in.
  • As a child starts to hone in on things that interest them, you should encourage them to pursue it fully. No matter what it is, maybe dribbling a basketball for 3 minutes straight or reading a chapter book start to finish in a day, placing your faith behind them will only boost their confidence in being able to accomplish it.

What parents should do and what to avoid:

  • verbal and not material rewards;
  • small instead of big rewards;
  • reward for the quality and the quantity;
  • no punishment;
  • no mixed messages (e.g., we do not use unhealthy behaviors to reward children since they automatically consider that behaviors as good).
Age Techniques for self-esteem cultivation


i) Provide age-appropriate opportunities to decide what they want, ii) Allow their “no’s”. Let them assert themselves and deal with the consequences, within a safe environment, iii) Give them the chance to freely explore their environment, while making sure that you are there if they need you.


i) Praise them for their effort, ii) Encourage sharing and playing cooperatively. Teach them that losing is part of playing, iii) Introduce them to household/classroom chores, iv) Show your interest in what they like or engage in activities that they enjoy.

Primary and middle school children

i) Show your love, interest and affection, ii) Acknowledge how challenging it is for them to adapt to a new school environment, iii) Encourage them to try again if they fail and be resilient, iv) Teach them basic social skills that might come in hand during socializing, v) Communicate with teachers/parents and show interest in how the child is going in the other context.  


i) Offer insightful feedback and encourage engagement in what they are good at, ii) Provide guidance about social skills and how to feel and act confident, iii) Act as their role model so they can mimic your behavior.