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 research, teens are always more likely to do the right thing when focusing on positive incentives and rewards than a threatened punishment.
Do rewards for teens work?
As for the benefits of giving rewards, another study shows that giving rewards without reason won't necessarily increase student motivation, and, in some instances, can reduce motivation or increase risk-taking. Therefore, the important guidelines are: Use rewards for a reason, reward specific behavior, 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 rewards are 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 behavior, 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 behavior and bribes are offered to stop negative behavior. Bribery also tends to happen as a last resort when we are stressed and want to change our teen's behavior 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 behaviors 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 by giving them more responsibility. Extra screen time, for instance, shows a teen that you trust them to make their own decisions about 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 allowance
You may not want to use money as a reward but offering to top up allowance for a reward can be very motivating for teens.
4. A 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 concert
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 can’t afford, like new trainers, 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 of 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. Favorite meal for dinner
The way to your teen’s heart is often through their stomach so offer up their favorite 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
A 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. Hobby lessons
Whether your kid wants an hour of horseriding or a quick lesson in crafting, this is a reward that can spark a lifelong love of something new.
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. Theme 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 to 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 $9.99 a month.
23. Gift cards for gaming or shopping
If your teen is a gamer nothing beats a gift card for in-game currency, or for a fashion-conscious teen try a store gift card. 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 for teens 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.