autodeterminazione personale

Personal self-determination of children: how to foster it

Lorenzo is a boy with remarkable abilities. He has always achieved good grades at school and had a nice group of friends, but now he doesn’t know what to do with his future. He has to make a decision; he knows he can continue his studies or go to work.

In the first case, the path is already laid out; he knows he will have to find a job, but he won’t have any other concerns. In the second case, however, he must carefully consider the field to which he wants to orient his studies because it will also influence his future profession.

He has never had a particular passion for something; he has been accustomed to working hard, and his parents’ satisfaction with his commitment has been enough to reassure them.

He is very active on social media, following many YouTubers, but he follows trends of the moment without having a real passion of his own. In short, he is a boy with a somewhat subdued interest in personal self-determination.

In addition to this, neither his mother nor his father have ever taken the time to reflect with him on what he would like to do as an adult, and he has always refrained from expressing his own ideas. Moreover, he struggles to talk to them because the tension between his parents pushes him to isolate himself from them.

His parents have noticed this, and now they don’t know how to delve into the matter of Lorenzo’s impending decision. They hope he makes a sensible choice.

They are affectionate parents who care about their son, but they have never thought about preparing him for such a transitional moment. Therefore, Lorenzo must draw on the resources he possesses to make a very important decision.

What are the best conditions to help teenagers with these characteristics build their own future independently?

1. What is personal self-determination?

Self-determination is a concept that has been used since the second half of the last century to identify a set of prerogatives that individuals have. In particular, you may have observed its use to express the right of peoples to claim their own political independence.

In addition to this, it has also been used in a more specific sense, indicating with personal self-determination the right and ability of individuals to decide autonomously about their own lives.

The need to resort to this concept partly stems from the field of disability, where the aim of a rehabilitative or educational path is to enable the person to recover their capabilities as much as possible and therefore be able to choose how to live their life, even in the face of particularly severe deficits.

More generally, we can say that every person, with or without disabilities, should be put in a position to decide about their own life as autonomously as possible, also because there are many situations in which this does not happen.

For example, a child cannot make all the decisions they want, nor can an adolescent. In some cases, not even an adult person can do so: for example, a young person who still lives with their family because they do not have a job may experience significant restrictions in deciding about their life.

The same can be said for many other disadvantaged adults who must constantly depend on other people or services to support themselves. In light of these reflections, we can assert that personal self-determination is a very important capacity in the education of children and should be built in the most effective way possible.

2. How is personal self-determination practiced?

At this point, the question that parents might ask themselves is how to promote in their children the achievement of such an important aspect. The levers that allow achieving this goal are at least three:

motivation to seek what they want: with small gestures every day, you can easily get the child used to being the protagonist of their own decisions. This does not mean letting them decide everything, but rather enabling them to decide with the maximum possible autonomy within a well-defined range of opportunities.
Over time, that range can be gradually expanded to leave the teenager increasingly capable of making decisions concerning themselves autonomously.

planning: teenagers let their imagination fly very often; they may be very ambitious because they see their idols living in luxury, and they would like to do the same.
On one hand, it’s good that a teenager desires to achieve goals, even far-reaching ones; however, if those goals are far removed from reality and their actual capabilities, ambition alone may not be enough to achieve results.

In fact, alongside motivation, it is essential that a teenager is capable of pragmatically planning the actions that can lead them towards the set goal.

serenity: the two previous elements can find a multiplying effect in the serenity of the family. A relaxed family atmosphere is the nourishment that feeds personal growth, both for children and parents.

Therefore, investing in calming experiences helps family members recover the energies that school, work, and daily commitments drain; furthermore, a relaxed and complicit atmosphere allows each individual to dedicate themselves more and better to exploring possible areas of interest: new friends, a new sport, new hobbies, a new job, and more.

3. What are the effects of effective self-determination?

In the dynamism of today’s world, the ability to adapt or reinvent oneself is an indispensable condition for living a satisfying life and even for survival. In fact, staying updated is necessary to maintain one’s job, keep up with technological advancements, and more.

Twenty years ago, the world was completely different from today, and even the last ten years have seen significant changes. The pace at which society changes is frantic, so much so that currently, a young person entering adulthood must rely on important resources like never before: flexibility, digital literacy, planning skills, and interpersonal skills.

However, these sole abilities are not enough; there is always the risk of being swallowed up by the frenzy and pursuing short-term occupations without having any idea of the direction to take in life. The consequence is that one may go from one situation to another, from one job to another, without considering if it is exactly what they desire.

To avoid moving aimlessly and regain control of one’s life, it is crucial to prioritize and pursue specific goals with planning. In short, a good dose of personal autonomy is necessary.

Individuals who can firmly pursue their set goals have the opportunity reach personal fulfillment much more than those who live day by day. Therefore, it is essential never to neglect this element in the education of children, at any stage of their development.


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