Parenting Resources

Positive Reinforcement for Adolescents

By the time children have reached adolescence, their responses are often ingrained, but parental actions can still positively affect adolescent behavior. Since adolescents are struggling to develop their personal identity and are concerned about their body image, parental support is crucial to help positively frame experiences as learning opportunities.  Positive reinforcement remains a powerful teaching tool during these formative years, and we encourage parents to take time to contemplate the ways they can help adolescents mature and become self-reliant.

  • Reinforce mature decisions by allowing increased privileges when adolescent demonstrates increased responsibility.   For instance, an adolescent who consistently demonstrates the ability to come home at the requested time might be allowed a later curfew - whereas an adolescent who has not completed requested chores will not be allowed to leave home that evening.
  • Express pleasure at positive adolescent behavior.  “I can tell you worked hard on your project.  You must feel so pleased with the result.”  “I can see how your friends appreciate your willingness to help them.”   “I like how you chose to save some of the money your received for your birthday.  That was a wise decision.” 
  • Simply listening to adolescents reinforces their feelings being trusted, respected and that their opinion is important.

A study of adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes showed that adolescents whose mothers used positive reinforcement were more likely to have better psychosocial adjustment (with fewer depressive symptoms) and even better control of their blood glucose levels.  (Jaser SS and Grey M.  A Pilot Study of Observed Parenting and Adjustment in Adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes and their Mothers.  J of Pediatric Psychology.  2010;  35(7):  738-747.)

 If these adolescents who have a chronic medical concern can be positively impacted by parenting encouragement, imagine how important positive reinforcement might be for all adolescents.