This site contains the archives of my travel blogs from 2010-2016.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Developing Your Child's Self-Efficacy

While sifting through studies exploring the antecedents of entrepreneurial intent, I came across some statements that might help answer questions for some parents I've talked with recently. Although the following paragraph is cited in the context of an academic study, think about how the message would fit into a more personal, developmental context -- specifically, the development of your own kids or kids you often interact with.

"Actual abilities only matter if a person has self-confidence in those abilities, and also the self-confidence that they will able to effectively convert those skills into a chosen outcome (Bandura, 1989, 1997). Evidence suggests that general self-efficacy is central to most human functioning and is based more on what people believe than on what is objectively true (Markham et al, 2002)."

I get a lot of questions from people curious as to what my parents did that triggered something that drives me to succeed -- or at least try to -- in pursuits that they claim most people my age wouldn't think about and/or wouldn't try.  There are a lot of factors here, but two seem most relevant: (1) personality traits, and (2) family orientation.  

A lot of people who hear my story say, "I wish I could get my kid to do the same thing."  I think that what these parents are most often trying to say is, "I'd love to see my teenager seek out similar opportunities," but what they usually (perhaps unknowingly) convey in their attitude and speech patterns is a disappointment in their child, or a personal doubt in their child's capability of following through with projects similar to the ones I'm tackling.   I've always felt a little saddened by conversations like this, and I think that if parents could just see themselves on film, having this conversation with me, it might give them the answer to what they perceive as their children's "under-achievement" and "lack of motivation." 

I don't think I possessed any extraordinary abilities or intelligence that made me any more capable than most other 15 year-olds to sign themselves up to study abroad.  
What I did have was an inextinguishable belief that I really could do it. 
I had self-efficacy.
And according to Markham et al., this counts for a lot, because 
general self-efficacy is central to most human functioning and is based more on what people believe than on what is objectively true.  

"So what" that I had never flown before.  "So what" that I'd never touched a passport, much less owned one.  "So what" that the only official paperwork I'd ever filled out was an application for a Safeway Club Card.  According to Markham, my belief deep down inside that I was capable was more important than any training I might have received on how to go about studying abroad.  It's that deep down belief that would drive me to spend 100+ hours researching different organisations, perfecting application essays, and conjugating French verbs.  It's that deep down belief that led me to work three jobs for over a year and save every cent for the trip.  

So where does family fit into this?  In my opinion, parents play a big role in developing self-efficacy in their children.  You are the ones they look up to the most from a young age, so your continued attention to and support of their every hope and dream will allow for them to blossom into confident teenagers with an ability to make and achieve goals.

I think that a unique and wonderful gift to me has been the fact that my parents have never told me, "You can't..." in response to an idea I've had or a trip I've wanted to take.  They may say, "we can't afford to sponsor this trip," "we can't go with you," "we can't wait 'til you get home," but they've never said, "No way, you can't do that." Instead, their response to my (sometimes naive and crazy ambitious) new ideas has always been, "That sounds really interesting, you could do that," and sometimes, "Okay, great.  Have you also considered....?"  

Just try it.  The next time your kid proposes an idea for a project, idea, or career they're interested in, listen to them.  Support the constructive brain activity that went into crafting the concept.  Tell them they could do it!  Then let that affirmation soak in.  After you've established your approval, consider diplomatically voicing your rational concerns or suggesting some new perspectives and alternatives. This is a surefire way to support the development of self-efficacy.

I'll leave you with a last encouraging word from the researchers....

"Research...has consistently emphasized the importance of self-efficacy as a key factor in determining human agency (Bandura, 1989), and has shown that those with high self-efficacy for a certain task are more likely to pursue and persist in that task (Bandura, 1997)."

So today's take-away:  If you want your kids to study abroad, make them think they can do it!!

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor, nor a child psychologist.  These are theories from my own experience and observation, and I will be glad to explain them further, but you should not sue me if your own attempt to test my theories ends in disaster.


  1. Shirah,
    I just wanted to take a moment to tell you how very much I enjoy your blog.
    I truly cannot explain with brevity all that I enjoy about your writing. Suffice it to say I think you are quite a wonderful and fascinating person.
    I want to encourage you in your goals and pursuits in life, and you certainly have my thoughts and wishes for continuing success in your endeavors.
    I have this little phrase for people that I meet who, for me, really stand out in life; they are people who “make the world go”… and I must say, I think that you’ve only just begun to fulfill that definition…
    I do hope to see you at Vaughn and Whitney’s at Christmas, and if possible before then, to buy you coffee or lunch sometime just to chat and discuss life. I imagine you’re even more busy than I am, but should the opportunity arrive I would really like hearing more about your experiences, plans and thoughts about life and etcetera…
    Take care. I’ll be tuned in.
    All the best!
    Ray Taylor

  2. Thanks for the nice note, Ray. It's always a pleasure to hear from you. I certainly hope that the Mays will do another X-mas party this year...and that I'll be on the list! hehe

    And yes, my planner is pretty full, but I'm pretty sure I could find a little slot to write in "Ray - coffee" :) This week is hectic, but get back to me soon, maybe we can meet up at Fido one of these days.


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