Self-Regulation Helps Teens Develop Intimacy and Well-Being

Individuals rely on emotional self-regulation to control behaviors on a daily basis. “For instance, we need to inhibit spontaneous responses in favor of less immediate ones from which we benefit more, or we need to stay calm even though our temper is aroused,” said Holger Busch of the University of Osnabruck, lead author of a dual study examining the effects of self-regulation on identity and intimacy development during adolescence. “In a first study, we tested whether, in young adulthood, intimacy is fostered by attentional control and, in turn, itself benefits well-being as well as self-esteem. In a second study, we used a longitudinal design to test whether generativity mediates the association between action control and purpose in life.”

People who exhibit high levels of self-regulation have fewer experiences of negative psychological states and form stronger identities. “Adolescents with high self-regulatory capacities had an increased probability of developing an achieved identity, which in turn is associated with well-being,” said Busch of previous data collected from similar research on the subject. Additionally, teens who displayed a stronger sense of well-being and identity appeared to develop intimate relationships easier than those with lower self-esteem.

For their studies, Busch and colleagues evaluated 177 German students two times over 18 months. The participants were assessed for intimacy, generativity, well-being and self-regulation. The team also measured action control and the overall effect of these emotions and behaviors on life purpose. The researchers found that self-regulation was directly related to positive identity formation. They said, “Specifically, the main developmental task in adolescence, identity formation, is more likely to be successfully resolved when self-regulatory capacities are high. Likewise, the central crises of young and middle adulthood, intimacy and generativity, respectively, benefit from high self-regulatory capacities.” They added, “Results demonstrate that self-regulation is an important resource for the successful resolution of developmental crises across the life span from at least adolescence on.”

Busch, H., & Hofer, J. (2011, September 19). Self-Regulation and Milestones of Adult Development: Intimacy and Generativity. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025521

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Robyn


    October 7th, 2011 at 4:49 PM

    Teens who can self regulate, and really adults for that matter too, are much more likely in my view to have a happier and healthier life. They are going to be less apt to let others control them and definitely will be able to keep many of their emotions under control when they need to.



    October 7th, 2011 at 11:09 PM

    Although self-regulation may seem like a great thing to do,its not a very easy thing for an adolescent.At a time when the hormones are raging and so many issues around you it is not easy to self-regulate.

    And because regulation has so many benefits,it still would be a great thing to have.So what can be done?Hmm…how about parents offering tips whenever the teen needs some advice?I know a lot of families do not have an environment wherein a teen goes up to a parent for help and the parent answers like a friend and does not flip, but it is something that if cultivated can actually help a lot of teens out there!

  • RJ


    October 22nd, 2016 at 11:15 PM

    Sadly, if a teen has a regulation control issue, it was learned by mom and/or dad. Whatever dysfunctional traits were demonstrated to kids are learned as ‘normal’ behavior. In my house, we remind ourselves, “you don’t fix something you refuse to see as broken”. Thank the universe for self awareness!

  • Thalia


    October 8th, 2011 at 1:56 PM

    This is a good lesson for all of us to know. Teaching teenagers to be responsible starts at a very young age. You have to start in the home from the time that they are old enough to realize that they are going to be making some decisions on their own and talk to them about doing the right thing, which is not always going to be the choice that will feel the best.

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