Can Self-Leadership Strategies Help Your Teen Manage Problems?

Teenager sits in front of laptop listening to music while doing homeworkThe teen years represent a time of change and challenge. According to developmental theorist Erik Erikson, adolescents turn away from their parents and toward peers during this time (Crain, 2005). As a result, teens are susceptible to joining peers in experimenting with drugs and alcohol, among other behaviors.

Teens can lack basic reasoning skills that adults possess. Because teens’ brains are still developing—the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until age 25 (Jay, 2012)—the consequences can be serious if they decide to use substances. Studies show teens who start using marijuana, one of the most commonly used drugs among adolescents, by the age of 14 are three times more likely to become psychotic (Amen, 2017, April 24). Teenagers who turn to alcohol to cope are more likely to continue doing so as they enter adulthood (Pinskey, 2017).

Parents often ask how they can help their teen make better choices. An approach that has worked well in organizations to manage employees is self-leadership (Manz & Sims, 1991). Backed by research supporting its effectiveness, consultants have been using this concept to train employees since the 1990s. In the past five years, self-leadership has been applied to help train military officers, police officers, and cancer patients (Lucke, G. A., & Furtner, M. R., 2015; Yun, Y. H.,, 2014). Georgianna (2015) suggests these strategies can be taught to teens to prevent them from turning to risky behaviors to cope.

What are some of the strategies involved in self-leadership? How can you teach your teen to utilize them when faced with difficult situations? Consider the following (for a full list of self-leadership strategies, see Georgianna, 2015, p.324):

Strategy 1: Use Positive Self-Talk

Explanation: When we make mistakes, we can have negative thoughts. Learning to approach a mistake from a more balanced perspective is a healthy practice for teens to learn.

Example: Your teen forgets their homework at school. Their immediate thought is, “I’m so stupid.” A balanced thought would be, “Sometimes I forget my homework, but that does not mean I am stupid. I have a lot on my mind today.”

Strategy 2: Observe My Behavior

Explanation: For most people, self-reflection is not an automatic practice. We often look at others’ behaviors and judge, but how often do we look at our own behaviors?

Example: Your teen is hanging out with a crowd using offensive language. A helpful tool would be to journal about why this behavior might be offensive to others and how this can impact how they are viewed and their reputation.

Strategy 3: Natural Rewards

Self-leadership strategies used within different organizations over time have proven successful for employees and their employers.

Explanation: Most adults learn to motivate themselves by self-rewarding. Many adults work hard at their job and reward themselves with a vacation, item of clothing, or an improvement to their home. Teens can develop their own self-reward system for motivation to make positive choices, complete assignments, or perform in extracurricular activities.

Example: Your teen is not completing their homework assignments. A natural reward for turning in their homework could be getting the chance to spend time with friends on the weekend.

Strategy 4: Physical Vitality

Explanation: Studies show exercise and eating healthy keep the brain and body healthy. Without incorporating these patterns into one’s life, the brain does not function as well (Amen, 2017, April 18). Teens benefit from learning the importance of exercise and a healthy diet. By encouraging your teen to prioritize these behaviors, they may be set up for current and future success.

Example: Your teen decided to stop participating in cheer six months ago because she felt as if she did not have enough time to focus on her studies. Since quitting cheer, she has been less motivated, sleeps more, and does not turn in homework. Encouraging her to get at least one hour of exercise a day could have an impact on her health and ability to focus on tasks.


The teen years are challenging for teens and parents alike. When teens receive help from parents, coaches, teachers, or counselors, the impact can be profound (Amen, 2017, April 18). Teaching your teen to utilize healthy coping skills now may set them up for success in the future. Self-leadership strategies used within different organizations over time have proven successful for employees and their employers. Research indicates young people can be taught these self-leadership strategies.

If you are experiencing difficulty with your teen, seek help from a trained professional.


  1. Amen, D., & Amen, T. (2017, April 18). Sports, mentors and social environments – Part 4 of an interview with Anthony Davis. The Brain Warriors Way Podcast. Podcast retrieved from:
  2. Amen, D., & Amen, T. (2017, April 24). Smoking marijuana is NOT going green! The Brain Warriors Way Podcast. Podcast retrieved from:
  3. Crain, W. (2005). Theories of development: Concepts and applications, (5th). New Jersey: Pearson.
  4. Georgianna, S. (2015). Addressing risk factors associated with women’s sexually compulsive behaviors through psycho-education and self-leadership development. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 22(4), 313-343. doi :10.1080/10720162.2015.1072489.
  5. Jay, M. (2012) The defining decade: Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group.
  6. Lucke, G. A., & Furtner, M. R. (2015). Soldiers lead themselves to more success: A self-leadership intervention study. Military Psychology, 27(5), 311-324. doi:10.1037/mil0000086
  7. Manz, C. C., & Sims, H. P. (1991). SuperLeadership: Beyond the myth of heroic leadership. Organizational Dynamics, 19(4), 18-35. doi:10.1016/0090-2616(91)90051-A
  8. Pinskey, D. (2017, Mar 13). Dr. Shelly Uram and Adam Tishman. The Dr. Drew Podcast. Podcast retrieved from:
  9. Yun, Y. H., Sim, J. A., Jung, J. Y., Noh, D., Lee, E. S., Kim, Y. W., & … Lee, S. N. (2014). The association of self-leadership, health behaviors, and posttraumatic growth with health related quality of life in patients with cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 23(12), 14231430. doi:10.1002/pon.3582

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Amy Quinn, MA, MS, LMFT, Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Janice

    May 25th, 2017 at 10:12 AM

    My daughter just turned 14 and she has started rebelling against every single thing that we have tried to implement. I have tried taking away her phone, she can’t go out, but nothing is stopping her. I am afraid that if I don’t get it reined in soon then we are going to have a huge problem on our hands but at this point I can’t seem to make any sort of headway with her. I think that my escalating frustration is only making things worse too.

  • Amy Quinn

    May 25th, 2017 at 3:57 PM

    Hi Janice- wow it sounds like you are trying hard to help your teen. Have you considered finding her a therapist? Sometimes teens really benefit from hearing about the risks and consequences of their actions from a trusted adult that is not their parent. If finances are a concern there are low cost counseling centers that have excellent therapists on staff. Try finding one that specializes in teen issues. You can do a search here on good therapy by entering your zip code and issue that needs to be addressed. Hopefully this helps!

  • Janice

    May 26th, 2017 at 10:34 AM

    I guess I haven’t really given that much thought into a therapist for her because honestly I usually look at it as I mist be doing something wrong and not her. Do you think that we could benefit from going together or should I find someone who will mainly work with her alone? I just feel like we are missing out on a lot of valuable time together because all we seem to do is butt heads.

  • Amy Quinn

    May 26th, 2017 at 8:22 PM

    Hi Janice- it sounds like you really care about your daughter, and that means you are doing something right! A good option for you would be to have your daughter see a therapist individually, but schedule sessions from time to time to see what she’s working on and to express what you are feeling as well. Having an objective third party present can really help you and your daughter communicate in a healthy way.

  • isabelle

    May 27th, 2017 at 7:19 AM

    I don’t think that I ever really came into myself until I was much older. I was a late bloomer so learning to be a leader and not always a follower was a hard adjustment for me to make. I don’t think that if I had stayed home after graduating from high school that things would have gotten much better for me. It was about taking that leap of faith and going somewhere away from home for school that was a big turning point for me.

  • Amy Quinn

    May 29th, 2017 at 7:37 AM

    Hi Isabelle! That’s great that you were able to gain some independence! What an invaluable experience to be able to go away to school.

  • Bev

    May 29th, 2017 at 8:05 AM

    So it’s all well and good to know what they SHOULD say instead of beating themselves up about it… but it is far more difficult for them to do this in reality even when you preach it to them day in and day out.
    They are the ones who ultimately have to believe in it

  • Amy Quinn

    May 29th, 2017 at 11:32 AM

    Hi Bev- you make a good point . Teens ultimately have to make the decision. But in my experience, when you give teens the tools to make good decisions, they have a better chance of making sound decisions.

  • Nina

    May 31st, 2017 at 11:07 AM

    give them the tools that they need to be a success

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