The teenage years are that awkward phase when kids move away from childhood toward adulthood. As their bodies and emotions change tumultuously, they may learn through trial and error how to improve, especially with actions that lead to consequences in the form of discipline.
While parents are busy monitoring teens to observe and correct problematic behavior, it is also important to catch them doing good things and reward them accordingly. Otherwise, they may get in the habit of practicing negative behavior in order to get their parents’ attention.
Here are a few suggestions for rewarding your teens:
- Say nice things. You remember the old saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? Practice it on your teenagers. Bite your tongue when they do silly or careless things unless they deliberately break a rule. Then, when you catch them doing their homework without being told, picking up their rooms, bathing the dog, or taking out the trash, offer a few thoughtful words of acknowledgment:
“Thanks for being so thoughtful.”
“You’re good to pick up on household needs like that.”
Your help will save me time to do other things.
- Hand out a hug. Physical affection may not seem very useful to a teenager, but it is. Where else can they get appropriate affection without strings or temptations? When your teen brings home a good report card or helps a younger sibling, throw your arm around his shoulders and give him a squeeze. Tap on the head, kiss on the cheek, or a pat on the hand all say the same thing, that you love your child and want to show it.
- Share quality time. In a recent survey, the average father spent less than three minutes a day in one-to-one time with each child. Many mothers spend ten minutes a day or less per kid. Of course, everyone leads hectic lives, but the point is that every child, and especially teenagers, appreciate their place in a family life when you make them the focus of it for a short period of time most days. Be a good listener for your teen’s failures, successes, and dreams. Hold back on advice until it’s asked for or truly needed. Play a board game or shoot hoops. Pull out a deck of cards or do an exercise routine together. Time spent with your children shows that they are important to you.
- Lend a helping hand. If your teen isn’t feeling well, has sports or social events coming up, or faces competing tasks, help with her chores. Or share your shoulder in moving furniture while cleaning her room. Help fold towels as you chat about the day’s events. If your work is caught up as the teenagers do theirs, go out and assist with the car washing, starting a water fight when you’re through. Working side by side builds strong bonds that will last forever.
- Special gifts. Sometimes you can say it with flowers, diamonds, or whatever your teen’s value. For example, some fathers buy their 16-year-old daughters a promise ring with a diamond chip as a measure of their faith in the daughter’s desire to stay pure for her marriage in the future. Or you may help your son buy a much-needed basketball or pitcher’s mitt that he’s been saving to buy. While you don’t want to spoil your children with too many needless gifts, it doesn’t hurt to offer an occasional present as a thoughtful gesture of affection and appreciation.
It’s easy to get bogged down with cricitizing teens on a daily basis for their attitudes and actions. Give them a little slack as you look for and reward all the good that they’re doing. They just might surprise you and do a little more.