The 4 Steering Skills

There are four Steering skills which young people need to self-regulate for healthy social and emotional development.

Eight years of STEER research led by Dr Jo Walker, across 12 countries, with 50,000 children across 150 schools, has shown us these four skills are particularly important for young people growing up in today’s world:


Crucially, each of these skills is NOT a quantity where having MORE is better than having less. For example, having MORE trust of ourselves is not better than having LESS trust of ourselves. There are risks in having too much, or too little, trust of ourselves. The same goes for each of the four skills.

Equally, these four skills are situational, not static. A young person has to learn to control, or STEER, their skills from situation to situation. So, there are some situations where a young person needs to have a HIGH trust of themself; and there are other situations where they need to have a LOW trust of themself.

Dr Jo Walker

OPEN each of the SKILL TABS to discover the times a young person needs to steer that particular skill, either HIGH or LOW.

 Self-Disclosure: Choosing whether to  share our qualities, skills,  thoughts, feelings and opinions with others, or keep them  private.

As our children move towards and through adolescence they begin to build more intimate attachments with people outside their family. They think more about the impression others have of them. They might share different aspects of themselves to different people. We might think of them making choices about what they show to different audiences on their front stage and what they keep on their more private back stage. Deciding what to share and with whom is really important. The question is, are our children making wise choices?

A generation ago, adolescents had smaller, more local groups of friends; they may have expressed more private thoughts in a diary or a particular best friend. They engaged with their friends in face to face interactions, or in 1-1 conversations on the phone. Adolescents today are growing up in a social media age where questions about privacy and self-disclosure are really critical.  They can share private aspects of themselves in very public social forums. They can invite social media acquaintances into their private backstage without anyone else knowing. They can present different versions of themselves to different people. They can access new opportunities, experiences and ideas without anyone else knowing. They can have hundreds of on line friends, yet have few meaningful relationships.


Times to be lower self-disclosing

  • Meeting someone for the first time
  • Choosing not to post intimate, personal or evocative things on social media
  • Sharing something personal or intimate with a trusted individual rather than to a wider audience
  • Keeping a confidence
  • Giving someone opportunity to voice an idea, opinion or thought rather than sharing their own
  • Holding back an answer or solution so that others can get to it in their own time
  • Struggling with something on our own rather than reaching out for help
  • Choosing to spend time alone, not connected to any social media devices
  • Listening to others and not interrupting
  • Holding a thought or question in your head and waiting for an appropriate time to ask it

Times to be higher self-disclosing

  • Asking for help or advice from someone you trust
  • Telling a teacher at school if work is too easy or too challenging
  • Telling someone how you are feeling if they have upset you
  • Ask a question if something is confusing or you want to know more information
  • Telling family about your day
  • Joining in conversations, sharing ideas and opinions
  • Posting appropriate comments on social media which build friendships
  • Suggesting ideas to the family
  • Collaborating on a shared family task, or joining in a family activity
  • Joining in clubs, activities where you can share your skills with others

Trusting Ourselves: Choosing whether to trust or question our own  qualities, skills, ideas and opinions

Adolescence is a time when our children’s trust of them self may fluctuate in response to all the different transitions and experiences they are having to navigate. Just remember what a complex time adolescence is. Their bodies are changing rapidly as they go through puberty; they may be experiencing new feelings which may be unsettling. They may be leaving one school community and set of friendships, and having to navigate new challenges and make new friends, They may be being assessed in more formal ways as they move through the education system, perhaps ranking themselves against their peers in a new way. Our children may respond differently to these changes; sometimes might be a little more self doubting, other might be a little more self trusting. The questions is how can we help our children develop an appropriate, resilient trust of them self

For adolescents growing up in today’s world, it may be even harder to develop an appropriate trust of themselves. The messages they hear may present an image of what is unobtainable to most young people. The posts they read or see on social networking sights may suggest that everyone else is having a great time, when as parents, we may recognise that people  post what we want people to know of us. The power young people have to affect change and elicit attention through social media can inflate their understanding of what is possible. The internet has give this generation  more choices and accessibility to more resources, knowledge and experiences than any other generation before them, and when exposure outweighs maturity it is difficult to make wise choices.


Times to question our own qualities, skills, ideas and opinions

  • Listening to feedback from those who are trying to support us
  • Recognising you  have made an error or mistake and learning from it
  • Recognising something is too difficult, and asking for or accepting support
  • Accepting failure and asking what skills or qualities you need to develop to improve
  • Setting realistic aspirations and effortfully working towards them
  • Being self-reflective and looking for ways to continue developing
  • Trying to learn a new skill, and accepting it will be challenging
  • Asking for feedback about ideas before acting on them
  • Being willing to change your mind
  • Accepting rather than challenging a decision
  • Fitting in with what is going on around you, and learning to compromise
  • Noticing what is happening around you; how others are feeling, what others are thinking
  • Working collaboratively towards a shared goal
Australian women's wheelchair basketballer Amanda Carter challenges for the ball in a game against the USA at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games

Times to trust  our own qualities, skills, ideas and opinions

  • Dismissing comments from others which are intended to hurt
  • Respectfully challenging feedback
  • Standing apart from peers because what is happening is unkind or unwise
  • Challenging others’ opinions in a respectful way
  • Persevering with something rather than asking for help or giving up
  • Not backing down from a decision
  • Making a suggestion
  • Offering to help someone
  • Saying no to a request which is unreasonable or inappropriate
  • Developing our own interests or style
  • Working independently on a task
  • Going into a performance such as sports match or exam

Trusting Others: Choosing whether to trust or question other people’s qualities, skills, ideas and opinions.

Moving from childhood to adolescence requires our children to engage with a wider social group. From having been more closely aligned with family members, they are developing their own strategies to independently manage interactions with friends, teachers and other adults with less guidance from us as  parents. They will be increasingly looking to others outside the family for support, affirmation and approval. They will be seeing themselves as individuals, perhaps asserting their own autonomy and identity in different social contexts. All of which, is developmentally normal and necessary if they are to become independent socially functioning young adults. However, making wise judgements about their response to and engagement with  other people is critical if they are to build healthy and appropriate with the different individuals in their life.

Making wise social judgements will rely on their discernment: how well do I know this person; are they reliable and trustworthy? How much should I expect of this person? Is this person’s opinion important to me? Should I do what this person is asking me to do? Whilst we all ponder these questions, for adolescents growing up in today’s fast moving on line world, these questions are more relevant than ever. The sheer volume of information can be overwhelming and confusing to make sense of. The ease with which others can post opinions and comments can be leave our children bombarded by peer critique – both positive and negative. The need for peer belonging and inclusion can supersede their rational judgement, perhaps leading to on line aberrations which surprise us.

How can we guide our children to know when to trust other peoples’ qualities, skills, ideas and opinions, and when to be more socially questioning? 

We can do this by modelling how we decide whether to trust or question others, but we can also signpost to children those times to trust others’ qualities, skills, ideas and opinions and when to be more circumspect and cautious.


Times to question other people’s qualities, skills, ideas and opinions

  • Ignoring a comment from someone whose opinion doesn’t matter to you
  • Saying no to someone who asks you to do something you don’t feel comfortable about
  • Choosing not go along with something that is unkind, foolish or dangerous
  • Asking questions rather than accepting thing as they are
  • Offering an alternative perspective in a discussion rather than going along with what others say
  • Finding your own solution rather than assuming others can help you
  • Persevering with something difficult rather than asking for help or given up
  • Asking before taking something rather than assuming you can just take it
  • Noticing that someone is busy and not interrupting them
  • Choosing not to share too much with someone you have only recently met
  • Reading critically, rather than assuming what you are reading is true or fair
  • Not getting drawn into conversations which are unkind or unhealthy
  • Choosing not to spend time with someone who has let you down or hurt you
  • Not posting private information on social media in case others use it inappropriately
  • Choosing to stick with your own opinion rather than changing it because others disagree

Times to trust other people’s qualities, skills, ideas and opinions

  • Taking on board other people’s ideas, when they are people you know and trust
  • Noticing other people’s qualities and skills
  • Affirming or praising other people in a meaningful way
  • Asking people you trust for advice when you have a problem
  • Trusting other people with tasks and responsibilities rather than doing it all yourself
  • Trusting that people will be welcoming to you when you go somewhere new
  • Trusting that people will be supportive when you have a go at something new
  • Having a go or taking a risk because people will be there to help
  • Accepting that people make mistakes and accepting their apology
  • Accepting that when you make a mistake people will be forgiving
  • Telling a teacher when you need help, once you’ve had a go on your own
  • Going along with what others are doing, even if it can be frustrating at times
  • Accepting a decision even if you don’t always agree
  • Being tolerant of other people even if they can be annoying or different to you

Seeking Change: Choosing whether to seek or limit new opportunities, ideas, experiences, challenge and relationships.

Adolescence is all about change. Just think how many transitions and changes they have to cope with, often they are happening concurrently. Body changes, friendships changes, school changes. New subjects to study at school, different teachers to engage with, new challenges to cope with, different expectations to meet. Knowing how to make wise choices about how to engage and respond to all these different changes and transitions must be exhausting. Adolescence is also about trying new things,  having new ideas, taking risks, meeting new people, discovering the extent our power and autonomy. It is about transitioning from being a passenger in our parents’ car to getting into the front seat for ourselves.

And then consider that this generation of adolescents are coping with these changes and transitions in a global world in which the rate of social change is unprecedented. The road of adolescence has never been less signposted. The availability of knowledge, experiences and resources have never been so accessible to our children.  As parents, it is impossible to supervise our children’s activities and interactions.  Whilst this fast moving world brings new freedoms and opportunities, we are all having to make more choices than ever before if we are manage this changing world and not be overwhelmed by it. For our children faced with these new freedoms and opportunities without experience and acquired wisdom as a filter – the choices they make may not always be wise ones. The risks they take may have far reaching consequences. Our challenge is to equip our children to make wise choices as they navigate this high opportunity-high risk adolescent journey.

How can we guide our children to know when to steer towards seeking or limiting change?

We can do this by modelling how we decide whether to seek or limit change, but we can also signpost to children those times to to exert effort on seeking new opportunities, experiences, challenges, ideas and relationships, and when to exert effort on focusing on what we are already doing or already have.


Times to limit new opportunities, experiences, challenges, ideas and relationships

  • Committing to friendships and working through conflict
  • Focusing on the current task or committing to a single idea
  • Developing an idea to a deeper level
  • Committing to an approach
  • Being cautious when presented with a new idea or approach
  • Persevering, not giving up
  • Focusing, not being distracted
  • Reading instructions carefully, not rushing
  • Listening carefully and checking they know what to do
  • Following instructions or a plan carefully, not deviating
  • Checking work conscientiously
  • Being competitive by doing something more thoroughly and precisely
  • Developing consistent routines and habits e.g. making bed, packing back the night before
  • Withdrawing from a situation which although exciting suggests danger or risk
  • Choosing not to take an opportunity which is not right at the moment

Times to seek new opportunities, experiences, challenges, ideas and relationships

  • Introducing themselves to someone new
  • Introducing a new idea or suggestion
  • Having a go at a new activity or skill
  • Taking on a new responsibility
  • Thinking of an alternative approach to doing something
  • Working with several ideas or thoughts
  • Being creative
  • Stopping something that isn’t working and starting again
  • Taking a considered risk, having weighed up pros and cons
  • Doing something, even though the outcome is unpredictable e.g. standing for a prefect responsibility
  • Purposefully doing something to take their mind off something else
  • Relaxing and allowing your mind to wander
  • Setting aspirant goals and targets
  • Working at pace – scanning, skimming, note taking
  • Being competitive by doing something first or quicker

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