How to Use Rewards to Encourage Your Teen's Good Behavior

Positive Reinforcement Strategies for Teens

Reward your teen's good behavior.
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Discipline shouldn't be just about negative consequences for misbehavior. Instead, it should also include positive reinforcement for good behavior. Just like adults earn a paycheck for going to work, simple rewards can motivate teens to stay on track.

Although teens are too old for sticker charts, they can certainly still benefit from rewards. Positive reinforcement lets them know when they’re doing things well and it can keep them motivated to do chores, follow rules, or keep up with their homework.

Praise Your Teen

Rewards don’t necessarily have to involve tangible gifts. Instead, praise your teen's hard work and good effort. Your teen needs to know when you’re proud of him or when you appreciate his behavior.

Just make sure that you praise your teen's effort, not just the final product.So rather than praise your teen for scoring the most points in the basketball game, praise him for trying really hard. 

Here are some examples of effective ways to praise your teen:

  • I’m so proud of you for studying so hard for your exam.
  • I really like the good sportsmanship you showed in the game today.
  • I noticed you tried to include everyone in your conversation today, even when your friends were trying to leave that one girl out.
  • Thank you so much for doing the dishes tonight. I really appreciate that.
  • I’m so happy that you’ve put all this work into studying for your science test.

Reward Your Teen

You can also use rewards as a way to reinforce good behavior.

Rewards don’t need to be expensive or extravagant gifts.Instead, reward your teen with simple items or privileges.

There are several ways to use rewards to reinforce good behavior with rewards. One way is to create a behavior contract that outlines when your teen can earn a new privilege. For example, tell your teen he can go to the movies if he’s done all of his chores for one week without needing any reminders.

You can offer small daily rewards as well. Allow your child to earn time to use electronics or visit with friends based on good behavior.

You can also offer larger rewards for bigger accomplishments. For example, allow your teen to host a party with friends if he gets his homework done on time without any reminders for two weeks. Or, tell your teen he can go to a concert if he gets on the honor roll.

Talk to your teen about what rewards he wants to earn and then make clear rules about what he needs to do to earn those rewards. Your expectations need to be clearly outlined. 

Avoid saying, “You can earn a reward if you behave." Instead, make it clear what behaviors you need to see and discuss what reward can be earned ahead of time.

Ways to Make Rewards and Praise Effective

Positive reinforcement will only be effective if you have a healthy relationship with your teen. Otherwise, your teen won’t really care if you approve of his behavior.

Additionally, it's important to only give rewards after the job is complete. For example, don’t tell your teen, “I’ll give you $10 now, but you’ll need to clean the house later.” That constitutes a bribe. Just like your boss likely doesn’t pay you until after you’ve done the work, make sure that you don’t give away rewards on the promise of good behavior.

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