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Praising Teenagers

February 24th, 2015     By Bob Pick, Vice President of Boys Town Nebraska/Iowa

Family, Parent-Child Relationships, Parenting Skills

​I’m very much an advocate of praising kids, including teenagers, in a positive-negative ratio of at least four positives to every one negative. For some, this may sound a bit lofty but it is very realistic if adults truly pay attention to behavior and learn to praise specifically and genuinely.

Praise is a sincere, positive evaluation of a person or an act. A lot of praise is “global” and terms are used such as “great job,” “you are smart,” or “pretty,” etc. These are very general, nonspecific words that often mean little to kids/teens.

One of the keys is to offer very specific praise for very specific behavior. Learn to observe a behavior and describe the behavior back to the teen when possible. My general rule of thumb is when offering praise to a teenager; use one or two specific behavioral sentences. In contrast, when describing inappropriate behavior to a teenager, use only one brief specific behavioral sentence. As an example of effective praising, a parent could say “I appreciate you completing your homework last night, as well as spending 20 minutes helping Billy with his spelling.”

Praise is one of the most powerful tools when engaging teenagers. I work with kids from all background and I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t appreciate a genuine comment of praise.

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