Intentional-self regulation (ISR) skills: What is their role in youth’s future outlook?

Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 3.08.24 PMSchmid, K.L., Phelps, E., & Lerner, R.M. (2011). Constructing positive futures: Modeling the relationship between adolescents’ hopeful future expectations and intentional self-regulation in predicting positive youth development. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 1127-1135.


During adolescence, young people often explore their identities and thinking about pathways into adulthood. Their increasing cognitive and behavioral capacities provide them with the tools for understanding and evaluating possible identities task. In addition, many have pointed to the importance of having the skills to “self-regulate” and maintain a positive sense of the future. The current study investigated the role intentional-self regulation (ISR), or youth’s goal-directed skills, and of youth’s hopeful expectations about the future in predicting positive youth development (PYD).

What are Intentional-self regulation (ISR) skills? ISR skills are goal-directed behaviors that maximize engagement in behaviors that contribute towards positive future outcomes. ISR processes include “selecting goals, optimizing one’s resources in order to achieve those goals, and compensating by adjusting when original goals are blocked or when strategies for optimization fail.”


The current study’s sample is part of a larger ongoing rigorous, sequential design longitudinal study, the 4-H study of Positive Youth Development (Lerner et al., 2005), which involves over 7000 youth and 3500 of their parents nationally across 41 states. The 4-H study was initiated during 2002-2003 school year with a cohort of fifth graders, and subsequent waves of data have been collected, primarily within the school setting.

The present study included 1311 youth (12-16) who were followed from grade 7 through 9. Within this sample, 61% of the youth were female, 62.5% white 7.4% Latino/a 7.2% African-American and 22.8% other.

The authors used structural equation models (SEM), a statistical approach for testing complex relationships among variables, to explore relationship between ISR skills and hopeful expectations in predicting PYD (measured by the five Cs – competence, confidence, connection, character and caring).


Both ISR skills and hopeful expectations about the future significantly predicted positive youth development (PYD).

Hope about the future may be an initial factor that influences later intentional behavior towards youth’s long-term goals.

Conclusion and Implications for Mentoring:

Mentors have the capacity to provide shape both youth’s hope about the future. Mentors may provide youth with information about potential future identities (e.g., outline necessary steps in the present towards a particular future goal). Mentoring research should directly explore the role of mentors in youth’s developing ISR skills. In addition, programs should consider potential activity suggestions (individualized for each match) that maximize the development of these skills.