The value of reinforcing positive behaviour for our teens

Anthony Hacking
Published on
June 17, 2021

As children approach adolescence, they sometimes begin testing limits, bending the rules and otherwise going against the grain. While this is normal behaviour for teens, it can be incredibly trying for you, as a parent.

Teenagers may also be dealing with the stresses that come with trying to fit in with their peers and assert their growing independence. However, at the same time, they are looking for validation from the adults around them. It's crucial, therefore, for parents and teachers to provide as much guidance and positive reinforcement as possible, rather than simply tightening the rules. 

While it may be challenging to reward and praise a teen, who may appear to be indifferent to us, it's well worth the effort. Here’s why.

Benefits of Positive Reinforcement for Teens

Although they probably won't admit it, teens crave approval from trusted adults in their world. Research shows that recognising and rewarding teens' positive behaviour is critical to promoting their identity formation and moral reasoning. 

Additionally, accentuating the positive cultivates teens' ability to take others' perspectives in social situations, an essential skill for successfully navigating relationships, careers and other areas of life. Numerous studies lend strong support to the idea that positive reinforcement, both at school and in the home, empowers teens to make the right choices and exhibit good behaviour.

According to an article in Frontiers of Psychology, “Researchers from the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience have suggested that a differential maturation of two brain systems associated with socio-emotional and cognitive control processes can explain the higher reward sensitivity, impulsivity and risk-taking behaviour in adolescence”.

These studies showed that adolescents were skilled at making choices associated with reward, but were less adept at avoiding decisions or behaviours related to punishment. These findings suggest that teens have better learning outcomes when provided with a system of rewards and incentives rather than punishments.

To encourage teens to help out around the house, it's likely more effective for a parent to say, "If you finish your chores, you can spend more time with your friends this weekend." than to state, "If you don't do your chores, you can't go out this weekend."

Investigators at Brigham Young University (United States) also looked at the effects of positive reinforcement on adolescent behaviour. They studied 500 families over a 10-year period to determine which factors influence teens' choices and actions. At the beginning of the study, the youth being observed were 11 years old. The researchers discovered that for teens to flourish during adolescence, they need to practice "the 5 Cs":

  • Competence
  • Confidence
  • Connection
  • Character
  • Caring

In order to promote optimal outcomes for teens, parents also need to model four key traits: self-esteem, self-control, values and empathy. In other words, demonstrating and encouraging good behaviour goes a long way toward discouraging bad behaviour.


How We Provide Positive Reinforcement at OWIS

At OWIS, it's our mission to guide students on their journey to become compassionate leaders and citizens. We have several programmes and policies that promote positive behaviour and encourage a culture of kindness and empathy.

Pastoral Care Programme

Pastoral care at OWIS is about creating a positive environment for every student to reach their full potential and flourish, to remove barriers to learning and to support students during difficult points in their life. At the heart of our pastoral care policy are our core values of compassion, kindness and respect. 

Our secondary teachers develop a rapport with our secondary students and work with them to develop their self-discipline, self-motivation, self-confidence and independence so that they are able to make not only a difference to their lives but to the lives of others, both now and in the future. Our tutors also provide personalised support and guidance to students, whenever they need it, so that they are ready to embrace all the challenges that life holds for them.

We expect our students to take responsibility for their own behaviour and ensure that they act as appropriate ambassadors for OWIS. We have a rewards policy to celebrate good academic work, high levels of achievement and excellent attitudes, both in and out of the classroom. We want our students to feel recognised and appreciated for their hard work and levels of achievement, and we take time to celebrate their efforts at appropriate times during the school year.

Dedicated Tutor Time

As part of our Pastoral care programme, our secondary students meet in small groups with their form tutors each morning, where they get to know each other better,  discuss any struggles they may be having, and are prepared in the right way for the school day. This mentoring time helps students better connect with their teachers and one another. 

Tutor sessions include activities and study related to PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) Education and helps students understand and develop resilience, self-esteem, risk management, teamwork and critical thinking in the context of health and well-being, relationships and living in the wider world. 

Behaviour Agreements

Rather than merely posting "rules" for teens to follow, we let them know what's expected through agreements pertaining to their behaviour in the classroom, the canteen and during school-sponsored events both on- and off-campus. Actively involving students in these policies makes teens more likely to follow them. 

We discuss these agreements at the beginning of the year and provide reminders as needed. Our behaviour agreements also have agreed consequences for those who do not meet the agreements. 


Secondary Six

While academics are an integral part of learning at OWIS, we also emphasise character development. To breed a culture of kindness and respect, we model what we call the "Secondary Six" and we encourage our secondary students to do the same. 

Our positive culture in secondary school is underpinned by these “Secondary Six” values:  

  • Kindness - towards everyone
  • Respect - for self, others and the environment
  • Positivity - for good character, well-being and happiness
  • Responsibility - Taking responsibility for their learning
  • Integrity - acting honestly and ethically
  • Relationships - building positive connections with teachers and students


Kindness Council


Student leaders serve on our Kindness Council, where they embody our school's values and serve as role models for others. They reach out to students in different classes to help them form relationships, build a sense of community and are encouraged to lead school events that promote kindness.

To learn more about our secondary school programme and dynamic school culture, schedule a school tour with us.

About Author

Anthony Hacking

Senior Coordinator - Secondary (Pastoral), Maths Teacher

Anthony Hacking became a teacher to help students achieve their mathematical, personal, social and emotional potential. Originally from the UK, Anthony holds a Master's Degree in Educational Leadership and Management and a PGCE in Maths. He provides high expectations and a positive attitude that supports inquisitive growing minds. Anthony likes Indian food, and after class, he works out at the gym.

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