There is no loss of authority in apologizing or admitting your mistakes. There is, however, good modeling.


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Show your teen that she has to obey certain rules, but she doesn’t have to like it. Compliance does not mean her feelings aren’t valid. You can validate her feelings without ‘letting her off the hook.’


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Make sure to let your teen know when he does a good job. Try to ‘catch’ your teen doing the things that you want him to do. Focus and capitalize on the few times he DOES obey instead of the times when he doesn’t. It is unlikely that you can give your teen feedback EVERY time he does a behavior (whether it is a positive/desired behavior or a negative/undesired behavior). So, your feedback will only happen some of the time that he does that behavior. For such intermittent feedback, positive reward or attention for desired behavior tends to lead to longer lasting behavior change than punishing for undesired behavior. While punishment works best if it is immediate and every time the behavior happens, reinforcement works best when it is intermittent.[i] Teens tend to repeat the behaviors that result in the most attention. Often, any attention can be reinforcing, even negative attention. An easy pattern for parents to fall into is to relax when things are quiet, i.e. give less feedback, and to punish, i.e. give more feedback, when the teen misbehaves. Unfortunately, this can teach the teen that the more he behaves appropriately, the less attention he gets, and the more he misbehaves, the more attention he gets.[ii] If most of the feedback is negatively focused, he is more likely to repeat the negative behaviors. If you spend more time and attention on the positive or desired behaviors, he is more likely to repeat those instead. So if punishment doesn’t work as well, why do we still feel compelled to use it? Three reasons: One, we feel that to do otherwise is to ‘let him get away with it.’ Two, when the teen misbehaves, it is too late to use the reward model. That ship has sailed. Punishment takes less planning. You can punish on the fly, but a proper reinforcement system takes time and setup that most parents have no time for. Three, it does work for some individuals. For them, the risk of negative consequences is a deterrent and results in behavior change. For others, it does not work as a deterrent. Either because something else is more important to them (getting what they want, acting on their impulse, making their stand, etc..) so much so that they do not care if they get punished. Or because they think they can get away with it, that they won’t get caught, and therefore won’t actually be punished.

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Sometimes, punishment will not succeed in the desired outcome, the elimination of an undesired behavior. For some parents, by the time they get to punishing their teen, they are exhausted and angry. At such a point, this is not so much an opportunity for learning as it is a desire for their teen to feel bad when he misbehaves. The idea is that a teen will be less likely to repeat a behavior that has lead to such a consequence. However, experienced parents know that it is not so simple. Why would a teen engage in a behavior that he knows will lead to punishment? It makes no sense. There are several reasons:

-He knows the rule, but disagrees with it. He thinks he should be allowed to do

what he wants. So he is willing to risk being punished.

-He thinks he won’t get caught. He is willing to take the gamble.

-He is so set on what he wants that he does not care what will happen as a result.

-In the moment of desire, he is impulsive and does not consider the


Punishment is based on the rationale that a rational individual will avoid behaviors that lead to anticipated negative consequences. There are a few limitations with this rationale. Some people do not always behave rationally. They act out of emotions and impulses without evaluating their behavior. Others have priorities that are more important to them than whether they get punished. For some, these are questions of maturity. So ironically enough, teens are less likely to respond to punishment as we might hope.[iii]

Another factor is that people are born with different temperaments. It is likely that from an early age you could tell how your teen responded to authority, limits, and rules. Some are more likely to respond with defiance and independence than others. They do not choose that nature. They are born with a certain temperament that is further shaped by their life experiences. Try not to take it too personally.  They suffer for that nature more than you do and they do not see how you are really looking out for their best interests in that moment. In time, they will learn to alter their behavior, but not on your timetable. So try to balance not being too upset and frustrated when he has done it again with not expecting him to do it next time.[iv]

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Sometimes, try simply watching your teen when she is not misbehaving, when she is playing by the rules, and compliment her on what you see.


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Try to use specific feedback for specific behaviors that you like.

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[i] Domjan, Michael. (1993) Domjan and Burkhard’s The Principles of Learning and Behavior, 3rd Edition. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.


[ii] Domjan, Michael. (1993) Domjan and Burkhard’s The Principles of Learning and Behavior, 3rd Edition (pp. 290). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.


[iii] Domjan, Michael. (1993) Domjan and Burkhard’s The Principles of Learning and Behavior, 3rd Edition (pp. 290). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.


[iv] For more information, refer back to the section Math Problems and its endnotes.



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