Shaping Cooperative Teenage Behavior

By Terry Maher, MSW, LCSW

Do you want to shape cooperative, compliant behavior from your teenager? Do you feel like it is a lost cause to get your teen to comply with your limits? Are you wondering if you have completely lost control of the situation?

Try utilizing behavior modification to help you gain some control (the key word here is "some"). If you want your teen to go to his or her room because he or she is behaving poorly, and your teen swears at you while going to his or her room, (as difficult as it may be) ignore the swearing and thank  your teen for listening to you.

Remember the saying, “behavior that gets noticed is repeated behavior.” By ignoring the swearing, you are reducing the likelihood of this behavior being repeated by your teen. You might need to grow a thicker skin for tolerating the unwanted behavior because the initial reaction for the teen could be to increase the intensity of the unwanted behavior. In the teenager’s mind, if swearing used to get a reaction from you in the past, then your teen might feel that if he or she does it louder, or more frequently, this will cause the reaction your teenager is seeking.

If you can continue to ignore this unwanted behavior, it will lose its power. Be careful not to react to the increased intensity as this will set a new baseline of this behavior, and your teen will go to the louder, more intense version more often. Now, be sure to notice the behavior that you are hoping to reinforce. So, if swearing is the unwanted behavior, which is being ignored, reinforce interactions where the teen avoids swearing. You can reinforce the wanted behavior by saying, "Wow, you sound so mature when you speak like that."

It's not magic, but it should give you a bit more control as you shape the behavior that you are seeking. 


Terry Maher is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), with a B.A. in Psychology from California State University Long Beach, and an MSW from University of Southern California with an emphasis on mental health services.

If you want shape cooperative behavior from your teenager, contact Terry to make an appointment. Contact: 714-432-9857 ext. 6 or via email: