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What is Behavioral Modification?

Behavior modification is creating a long-term change in a pattern of behavior. The term “behavior modification” often comes with a negative connotation, but it’s pretty simple. By linking rewards and consequences to everyday behaviors, people can change their behavior for the better.

Adults regularly use behavior modification techniques to stop bad habits like smoking or over-indulging in unhealthy food. Similarly, adults use rewards or other consequences to get themselves to start good habits like working out or learning a new language. The consequences can be positive or negative, but they should encourage behavior change that leads to the desired result.

Many teens who struggle with mental health issues like ADHD or ODD don’t move through life as other teens do. They have a hard time planning, staying on task, and completing chores or schoolwork. Teen behavior modification techniques can be used to help teens break bad habits or to form positive habits.

Teenagers who have a tough time following through with their daily expectations can benefit from repeated therapy sessions or a therapeutic boarding school. Behavioral and cognitive disorders compound the difficulty of teen life. However, there are plenty of behavior modification techniques that you can try at home.

What is behavior modification?

Teen behavior modification strategies focus on using consequences to help establish a new behavior. By and large, rewards and punishments don’t need to be anything significant. Setting specific consequences for doing or not doing a behavior helps the teen learn to change their behavior permanently.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement encourages behavior by providing a reward for behavior. Rewarding behavior involves adding something new and positive. For example, you might reward your teen for making A’s by bringing him to dinner at his favorite restaurant. Without the behavior, he wouldn’t be going to a special dinner.

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement encourages behavior change by removing something unpleasant. Rather than adding something new, you’re taking away something they don’t like. For example, when your teen cleans his room without being asked, you don’t fuss at him to clean his room. He would have had to deal with being fussed at again without the behavior. By doing the positive behavior, the unpleasant interaction is removed.


Punishments encourage behavior change by making life a little more unpleasant than it would otherwise be. When the teen doesn’t do the behavior you’re trying to promote, they receive a punishment that they don’t like. You can either add something unpleasant or take away something pleasant with punishment.

  1. You could punish your teen for forgetting to do his homework by asking his teacher for make-up work. He would still need to submit his assignment, but he would also have to do additional work to make up for his late homework.

  2. You could also punish your teen for forgetting to do his homework by taking away his video games for a night. He would still have his video games if he had done his homework.

Tips for teen behavior modification

There are a few things that you can do to help the behavior modification techniques be successful.

  1. Talk to your teen. If you’re going to start implementing new rules around the house, talk to your teen about it first. The changes won’t be as successful if you take them by surprise. Your teen might even be on board for changing their behavior. Many teens with ADHD and ODD want their lives to be easier, but they don’t know how to do it on their own. These changes could help them take control of their life.

  2. Get your teen’s opinion. Your teen will probably have good ideas about consequences that will be effective for them. If they want to change their behavior, they are more likely to share their opinions to be more successful.

  3. Be consistent. Behavior modification techniques only work if you’re consistent. Teens need to know what to expect based on behavior. Once they rely on a specific outcome, it needs to happen every time.

  4. Get their school on board. Talk to your teen’s teachers or guidance counselors to help get them on board. If the school is willing to help your teen change their behavior at school, it will be easier to make the changes stick.

Teen behavior modification doesn’t happen overnight, and there can be periods of ups and downs. Don’t be surprised if your teen slides back into old habits after a while. The old patterns are engrained and take a lot of time to overcome.

If your teen son struggles to change or maintain his new behavior, he might need more purposeful intervention. At Sundance Canyon Academy, we have helped many teens learn to change their behavior for good. Through personalized therapy plans and life skills training, teens with ADHD and ODD can learn new behavioral strategies that work for them.

Contact us today to find out if our school is a good fit for your son.

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