Whether you want your teens to clean their rooms or work harder at school, you are always better off offering a reward rather than using punishments, says a study published by the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London. According to the researchers' teens are always more likely to do the right thing when focusing on positive incentives and rewards than a threatened punishment.
As for the benefits of giving rewards, another study shows that rewards don't necessarily increase student motivation and, in some instances, can reduce motivation. Therefore, the important guidelines are: Use rewards for a reason, reward specific behaviour and don't make the rewards excessive.
Louise Hill, co-founder and COO of GoHenry, agrees, "Rewards are a divisive issue. Some parents feel they work, while others believe rewarding is a form of bribery. As with all parenting issues, it's important to do what's right for you and what works for your child."
Do rewards always need to be tangible?
Rewards can be anything from a new item of clothing to specific praise you know your teen needs to hear. For many kids, it's deeply rewarding to hear that we as parents are proud of them or inspired by their effort. Rewards can also be for anything, they don’t have to be for school work or good behaviour, they can be for being considerate, kind or even using their initiative.
Are rewards the same as bribes?
It's easy to get confused between bribery and rewards. Rewards are earned for positive behaviour and bribes are offered to stop negative behaviour. Bribery also tends to happen as a last resort when we are stressed and want to change our teen's behaviour immediately. If you’re struggling with the concept of rewards, remember teens deserve recognition and incentives, just like we do at work.
What rewards work?
There is no gold standard for reward ideas because what works for one teen, doesn’t for another. What you choose to offer up will depend on your teen’s personality, what behaviours you want to reinforce, and how meaningful that reward is for your teen.
25 reward ideas for teens
1. Extra screen-time
One of the best ways to reward a teen is giving them more responsibility. Extra screen time for instance, shows a teen that you trust them to make their own decisions around when to switch off.
2. Staying up late
Another extra responsibility reward that allows teens to feel more in control of what they do at home.
3. Extra pocket money
You may not want to use money as a reward but offering to top up pocket money one week for a reward
4. New app on their phone
While you may not be in control of what they download, you can offer up the reward of an app that costs money or has a subscription such as Calm or Headspace.
5. Tickets to a gig
Always a winner as a reward but check out the cost before you offer it up.
6. Friends to the house
This falls into the responsibility as a reward area as perhaps you could offer up their friends coming for a sleepover or one evening when you are out.
7. New game for their games console
The perfect reward for gamers and if they don’t want a new game perhaps offer up some in-game currency for them to spend.
8. A big ticket item
A big ticket item could be something they want but they can’t afford, new trainers, or headphones or even a screen repair to their phone.
9. Skip a chore of their choice
A winner on the teen front. Most teens hate chores so offer them a choice or skipping or swapping a chore as a reward.
10. Stay out later
It can be hard to extend the time your child has to be home on school and work days, but compromise with the offer of a longer curfew on weekends and holidays.
11. Favourite meal for dinner
The way to your teen’s heart is often through their stomach so offer up their favourite meal with all the trimmings.
12. Stay over at a friend’s house
This can be a big one for teens who haven’t yet had a sleepover making it well worth offering as a reward.
13. Movie night
Get your teen to go box set or movie crazy and let them decide what you will all watch for the night.
14. New clothes
Perfect reward for those into their clothes. Be sure to put a price on it so they don’t expect a huge spend.
15. Sleeping in at weekends
To be fair most teens already sleep in on weekends. However, a reward could be (if you can face it) to let them sleep for as long as they want one Saturday!
16. A day out of their choice
You may not think teens want to spend any time with their parents, but offer them a day out of their choice (within a budget) and you’ll be surprised at what they come up with.
17. Driving lessons (10 to 17 years)
18. Something for their room
You’d be surprised at what your teen would consider a reward for their bedroom - LED lights, Lava lamps, a mini fridge and more.
19. Let them decorate their bedroom
One for older teens (within limits) but a reward most teenagers would embrace.
20. Amusement park with friends
Always a winner with teens though as a high value reward it should be attached to something big like end of year reports.
21. Nail salon/barber visit
A teen treat can be something that we as adults take for granted. So a manicure or gel set, or a trip to a high end barber would work for most teens.
22. Pay for a subscription for Audible, Spotify, or a streaming service.
Subscriptions can be costly for teens, so work well as rewards. Spotify is £10 a month, and streaming services range from £1.99 to 4.99 a month.
23. Gift card for gaming or shopping.
If your teen is a gamer nothing beats a gift card for in-game currency. Gift cards start from £10.
24. Gym membership.
Most gyms have a special monthly rate for teenagers so offering this as a reward will make most teens happy.
25. Their own debit card
A GoHenry prepaid debit card is the ideal gift for a teen eager to be more independent. The card allows them to spend, save and budget as well as pay online and in-store. Better still, as a parent you can set ATM and single spend limits to ensure they don’t go wild with their money.