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Using Positive Reinforcement to Increase Connectedness

This is a self-directed activity for use by both parents and teens ages 13-19. It includes the following sections:

Time Required

45 minutes

Setting and Audience

This is a self-directed activity for use by parents and teens ages 13-19. It is written at a 7th grade reading level. The activity could be used in a variety of ways:

  • As a homework assignment given to youth to be completed independently or with their parents,
  • As an activity handed out to parents as part of a workshop or support group, or
  • As an activity posted online.

Activity Rationale

Parents and teens often fall into a habit of focusing on negative things. This stands in the way of their having a close, connected relationship. Parents may react with frustration or anger because of the challenges involved in parenting a teen. Teens may make mistakes as they try to walk the path to adulthood. They want their parents to remember that they probably repeated mistakes when they were teens, too! While these mistakes are normal, they can scare parents. Parents may then react in ways that are harsh and critical. Also, parents often get frustrated when teens make the same mistakes over and over again.

Teens want more independence. They question the decisions and authority of parents more often than they did when they were younger. They want to be treated as adults even though they are still trying to figure out what that means. Sometimes parents don't recognize these facts, don't give independence and criticize teens for their mistakes, instead of supporting them. As a result, teens feel powerless and discouraged and are drawn into negative thinking.

This activity will help parents and teens identify their tendencies toward being drawn into negativity. It will also help them learn to use positive reinforcement as a way to increase their connectedness with each other.

Activity Description

This is a six-part activity:

  • Part 1: About "Knee-Jerk" Reactions
  • Part 2: Criticism: A Common Knee-Jerk Reaction
  • Part 3: Recovering from Knee-Jerk Reactions
  • Part 4: Using Positive Reinforcement
  • Part 5: Examples of Positive Reinforcement
  • Part 6: Wrap-up

In Parts 1 and 2, parents and teens will learn about "knee-jerk reactions" — reactions that are driven by emotion. They will look at how to prevent these reactions, while also acknowledging that these reactions are going to happen. In Part 3, parents and teens are given a three-step method for recovering from knee-jerk reactions and repairing the damage they do to connectedness.

Parts 4 and 5 of the activity focus on one of the three steps, positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is defined and they are shown how to use it to maintain or improve connectedness. In Part 6, parents and teens think about their own relationships and list some behaviors that they want to increase.

Activity Objectives

After participating in the activity, parents and/or teens will be able to:

  • Identify "knee-jerk" reactions.
  • Forgive themselves for their "knee-jerk" reactions.
  • Understand how a concern differs from a criticism.
  • Move from "knee-jerk" reactions to other positive behaviors.
  • Use the three methods for giving positive reinforcement.

Materials Checklist

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