Promoting Youth Development

Partnering with Students

We must partner with students early on to take a lead in their own lives

Are we doing enough to promote students' increasing responsibility to take control of their own lives? Are they prepared to advocate for themselves in postsecondary settings? Do they have the skills to evaluate their academic or work performance and adjust their behavior appropriately? Do they know how to set goals, solve problems, and make choices and decisions that promote their aspirations?

If we are going to successfully prepare youth and young adults to pursue their postsecondary aspirations, we must partner with them, early on, to take the lead in their own lives. Research shows that youth development is an important component of effective youth education. If youth are expected to take responsibility for accessing college, pursuing work, and advocating for accommodations, they must have frequent opportunities to practice these skills.

Defining Self-Determination

Michael Wehmeyer, a researcher and disability advocate, defines self-determined behavior as "the attitudes and abilities necessary to act as the primary causal agent in one's life and to make choices and decisions regarding one's quality of life, free from undue external influences or interference" (p.305). A causal agent is a person who makes things happen as opposed to being acted upon. A causal agent is actively involved and directs what is happening in his or her life.

The research of Wehmeyer and others indicates that youth who participate in activities and skill-building curricula that promote self determination have an increased knowledge and understanding about how to plan for their future, based on their desires and preferences.

Instruction and Opportunity

For youth to demonstrate self-determined behavior, and to incorporate these behaviors into their postsecondary planning, they must be instructed and have opportunities to develop self-determination skills in various aspects of their lives. These include: (1) goal setting, (2) problem solving, (3) self-assessment, (4) choice making, (5) self advocacy, (6) decision making, and (7) an internal locus of control. Youth, especially youth with more significant disabilities, are often not taught these skills in school, and have limited opportunities to practice them at home and in the community.  To be useful, self-determination skills must be practiced and reinforced in all environments: at home, in school, and in the community. (Download a "Self-Determination chart" (PDF).

For more information, see the Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment.