Regulating the Teenage Mind


Part of being a teenager, particularly in Hong Kong, is coping with increasingly complex demands of school and extracurricular activities. Not only that, they are expected to take on more responsibility personally and deal with moral and ethical dilemmas more frequently.

The adolescent mind is still malleable; this is good news considering that they don’t yet possess the full executive function skills of adults. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University – “there is an opportunity in adolescence when capacity spikes and parents and teachers can actively encourage the growth of self-regulation skills, which are increasingly recognised as a critical determining factor of long-term success and happiness”.

Try some of the strategies below recommended by The Center on the Developing Child to aid teenager development.


  • Encourage teens to identify something specific, and meaningful, that they want to accomplish. Start with simpler goals, like setting aside time to exercise or enrolling in an extracurricular activity, before moving on to larger goals like preparing for university applications.
  • Help teens develop short and long-term plans for steps to reach their goals. Identify problems that might arise and encourage them to plan for those.
  • Help teens root out counterproductive habits or impulsive changes by reminding them to periodically monitor their behaviour to see whether they are doing what they planned and whether the plans are working.


  • Have teens talk themselves through the steps of a difficult activity or mentally narrate what is happening. Self-talk can bring thoughts and actions into consciousness and can help teens identify negative thinking or behaviour patterns.
  • Help teens recognise the lessons of difficult experiences or failure. Help them consider what went wrong and what might be done differently next time.
  • Help teens become more mindful about the effects of interruptions, particularly from electronic devices. Rather than multitasking, work on ways to prioritise tasks.
  • Talk with teens about the motivations of other people, helping them to develop hypotheses about why someone acted in a certain way and what an alternative interpretation might be.
  • Encourage teens to keep a journal, which can foster self-reflection, awareness, and planning.


  • Break a project down into smaller pieces.
  • Make reasonable plans (and a timeline) for completing each piece.
  • Self-monitor while working; set a timer, and when it goes off, ask yourself whether you are understanding and completing the assignment the way you planned.
  • Set aside time for focused attention, with no distractions or devices.
  • Use memory tools — mnemonic devices or written notes.
  • Keep a calendar of deadlines.
  • After completing a project, pause to consider what went well and what didn’t.
  • Think about what you learned from assignments that weren’t completed well.

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