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Secondary Reward Ideas for Teens

Updated on May 22, 2012

A “secondary reward” or “secondary reinforcer” is a desired item or activity that is used to motivate a teen. The “primary reinforcer” can something like money, but more often in treatment settings, it is earned “points”. The points in turn “buy” the things and activities that teen wants.

The trick is that the secondary reward menu must contain items and activities that are highly valued by the teen. If you don’t have tasty things on the menu, the teen won’t “bite”. Remember not to assume that all teens value the same items or activities; you have to be flexible and creative in making the menu fit the child!

Below are some ideas of items and activities that generally are of high value to adolescents, along with some specific details on how to use them. While come of these might seem either too expensive, or too bothersome to control (or both), remember that they will likely have high value to the child, and high value is your ‘behavioral friend’!

Trac phone and trac phone minutes.

Soda: the name brands should cost more points than store brand, just like in real life

Less than healthy snack foods (o.k., junk food). You may have to offer a snack, but the snakc could be …carrots or raisins, for example. This may not work if the child prefers these to chips, etc.

Television time: in order to control this, find a television that has a removable power cord, or, if you have cable, just remove the cable when time is up.

Thirty to sixty minutes extra stay up time after regular lights out.

Having a friend in, or going to a friend’s home.

Out to a social event, with you in escort.

Out to a social event without you in escort.

Taxi service to a store to make a purchase, or to a social event.

Computer time: again, just take the keyboard to control use. Internet access is inadvisable, unless it’s homework and supervised 100%. You raise the computer value by loading on some cool games.

Game Cube or Xbox time: this may be the best high value motivator around, and may well be worth the high end monetary investment. Control of time use can be done by simply taking the controllers, or if there is a “destroyer” in the home, you can build or find a box large enough to lock the actual unit in. Just cut or drill out holes in the back for the various cords.

Buy off an assigned community chore.


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      8 years ago

      If my parents tried to control me like that (I am currently 18 living at home for school) I would get my own place...I think this is stupid control your teens computer time...what about when they need it for homework, I don't know any of my friends that have a bedtime or "lights out" as you put it. Teens should be learning to do what they have to because they have to and its easier not because mommy is going to give me a car ride to a store. I think that doing this is like treating your teen like a child being potty trained!


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