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Free «Changing Teenage Behavior» Essay Sample


The objective of the report is to identify intervention strategies that aimed at changing the behavior of teenagers, specifically their attitudes towards cleaning their rooms. The usual problems or concerns of parents, guardians, teachers, and other adults about teenagers are their attitude towards responsibility, independence, and freedom. According to Lerner and Steinberg (2009, p. 211), conflicts or misunderstandings between parents and adolescents are sometimes caused by the “discrepancies between parents’ and adolescents’ views on adolescents’ personal freedoms.” For instance, teenagers fail to understand what their roles and responsibilities are because what they believe to be their roles and responsibilities are different from what parents expect from them. When it comes to teenagers to clean their rooms, the importance of the chore to their parents does not meet understanding of adolescents. Since they have their own rooms, they are entitled to make decisions on how they will maintain or take care of their rooms.



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Although most cases of conflict in the family are manageable, scholars in adolescent psychology believe that in other cases oppositional behavior exhibited by teenagers may be a warning sign for possible display of delinquent behavior in the future. Based on research studies in adolescent psychology and oppositional behavior in teenagers, the quality of relationship between parents and adolescents depend on the behavior of teenagers. Barkley, Edwards, and Robin (1999, p. 32) assert that “the quality of nature of parent-child or parent-teen interactions is strongly and reliably associated with the severity of noncompliant, defiant, and aggressive behavior patterns in children and teens, the persistence of these behaviors… as well as the risk for later delinquency.” Due to risks of displaying delinquent behavior, to change the behavior of adolescents before it is too late becomes a priority. Several discussions and studies highlight the various intervention strategies that could be implemented to accomplish the goal of changing teenager behavior positively.

Changing Teenage Behavior: Intervention

Scholars and experts in adolescent psychology recommend various intervention strategies to facilitate changes in adolescent behavior. Three interventions which may specifically target the attitudes of teenagers to cleaning their rooms or change teenager behavior in general, will be discussed in this section of the report. James and Luyben (2009, p. 187) conducted a study aimed “to reduce the messiness in a 13-year-old boy’s room.” Prior to the study, James and Luyben (2009) researched various interventions that could be implemented in order to motivate the boy to clean his room. Based on previous research studies, the “contingent access to an activity reinforcer” could be a good motivator to the child. In the study, the child was offered extra time to use the computer as an activity reinforcer in exchange for the subject of maintaining a clean room. The result of the study revealed, “there was a substantial decrease in the number of objects out-of-place” (James & Luyben, 2009, p. 187) once the child was informed on his reward – computer time – if he keeps his room clean.

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Smetana, Daddis and Chuang (2003) studied adolescent-parent conflict in middle-class African American families. Based on the study, one of the major reasons for conflict in the home is room management. Conflicts between parents and adolescents happen when a teenager refuses to clean his or her room with the reasoning that the room is his or her “jurisdiction”. In the study, “adolescents primarily justified conflicts on the basis of personal jurisdiction, and personal reasoning increased significantly with age” (Smetana, Daddis & Chuang, 2003, p. 631). Therefore, as teenagers grow older, the parent-adolescent conflict also escalates. In the study no particular intervention strategy was implemented. However, Smetana, Daddis and Chuang found out that parents usually compromise with their children except when adolescents are older in age and more defiant towards their parents. When parents see their adolescents being defiant, they address the situation by exacting punishments. In a way, the system discussed by Smetana, Daddis and Chuang is the opposite to the activity reinforcer and contingency intervention strategy discussed by James and Luyben (2009).

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The third intervention strategy was studied by Searcy (2007). In this study, the goal of Searcy was to discuss adolescent behavior so readers can gain “a conceptual understanding of the development of self-esteem” (p. 121). Searcy argued that the importance of building self-esteem in children and adolescents, as well as its outcomes, is overlooked by many. Although the issue of changing of adolescent behavior by encouraging or motivating them to clean their rooms was not the main topic in Searcy’s research, the study is related to the problem indirectly. Based on the study, the level of self-esteem in children affects their way of thinking, actions, and behaviors positively, so that a high self-esteem is the reason for a child’s desires and motivations. Adults can build the self-esteem of adolescents by allowing them to participate in activities so they can see the results. When adolescents gain self-esteem from that, they themselves seek activities where they can achieve small or big roles. Thus, when “the youth participates in an adult activity, experiences the result of the activity,” (Searcy, p. 121) the adolescent will find pride in doing small or big tasks like cleaning their room.

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The three intervention strategies show different approaches that could be used to change the behavior of adolescents, particularly to motivate them into cleaning their rooms. The first intervention strategy involves the use of positive reinforcement. In the study conducted by James and Luyben (2009), the positive reinforcement is in the form of an activity reinforcer – computer time – which motivated the subject to clean his room. Change in the subject’s behavior was palpable in the study, so the researchers observed a gradual decrease in trash or mess inside the victim’s room. The second intervention strategy is opposite to the positive reinforcement. Instead of using rewards to motivate or encourage adolescents, Smetana, Daddis and Chuang (2007) discovered that most adults use negative reinforcement in order to help adolescents understand and fulfill their roles and responsibilities. When adolescents are punished because of bad behavior, they learn to avoid doing it again. Aside from negative reinforcements, some adults also use compromises in order to lessen the intensity of parent-adolescent conflict. The third intervention strategy involves the development of self-esteem in adolescents. The goal of this kind of intervention is to engage adolescents in activities where they can feel a sense of achievement. As a result, adolescents understand the value of doing small or big tasks so they can fulfill goals or responsibilities.

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Empirical Studies on Intervention Strategies

Various empirical studies were conducted in the past utilizing the three strategies previously discussed. In the 1980s, for instance, Chamblerlain and colleagues conducted a study of Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC) where foster parents of juveniles are asked to train adolescents by practicing discipline strategies and positive reinforcements at home. Based on the social learning theory, MTFC yielded varying results. Apparently, the implementation of positive reinforcement at home contributed to positive changes in behavior. However, the downside of the intervention, which included strict disciplining, caused the behavior change of teenagers when they are out of home and being influenced by peers. Thus, the empirical study revealed that positive reinforcement may work as an agent of behavioral change in adolescents at home, but when adolescents are in the home’s external environment, they revert to old behavior.

MacPherson et al. (2010) studied the impact of positive and negative reinforcements in the behavior of early adolescents. In the empirical study, the goal of MacPherson et al. was “to examine the combined influenced of positive reinforcement processes using a behavioral task to measure the risk taking propensity (RTP) and negative reinforcement processes using a behavioral task to measure deficits in distress tolerance (DT)” (MacPherson et al., 2010, p. 331). MacPherson et al. include 230 adolescents to participate in the study. The participants were initially asked to complete two tasks. The results of the study revealed that positive and negative reinforcements must be implemented in order to both evaluate and change the behavior engagement in adolescents.

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Barnow, Lucht, and Freyberger (2001) conducted a study to determine the impact of negative reinforcements like punishments on the behavior of adolescents. In the study, other factors were evaluated as well, such as the nature of living conditions, the quality of relationship between parents and adolescents, and occurrence of abuse among others. In the study a control group of adolescents participated. The results of the study revealed that parenting which includes the implementation of punishments leads to negative and defiant behavior of adolescents. Therefore, conflicts at home worsen and make it difficult for parents to discipline teenagers and make them fulfill their roles and responsibilities inside the home such as cleaning their rooms, helping with chores, etc. Barnow, Lucht, and Freyberger (2001) did not discuss the pros of punishment for adolescents.

The study by Pettit et al. (2003), on the other hand, sought to determine the behavioral outcomes of parental monitoring and psychological control which involves punishment on adolescents. In the study, the researchers conducted home visits to interview 440 mothers and their teenagers. The interviewers conducted in order to assess behavioral problems in adolescents and other information or factors that may influence teenage behavior, like parent-adolescent relationship, family background, etc. The results of the study revealed that “monitoring was anteceded by a proactive parenting style and by advantageous family - ecological characteristics, and psychological control was anteceded by harsh parenting and by mothers’ earlier reports of child externalizing problems” (Pettit et al., 2003, p. 583). The authors of the research did not discuss the pros and cons of controlled and disciplined home environment where punishment is strictly implemented.

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Like the concept of developing self-esteem as an intervention strategy to change the behavior and attitude of teenagers towards cleaning their rooms, Chinman and Linney (1998) studied adolescent empowerment as an intervention that could solve various issues concerning adolescents. Chinman and Linney discussed both theoretical and empirical evidences that prove the importance of empowerment in teenagers achieved by building their self-esteem not only as a means to change their behavior but also to prevent the onset of bad behavior. According to Chinman and Linney, “Empowering of adolescents can serve as a preventive intervention” (p.393). To support the hypothesis, Chinman and Linney also discussed the social control and developmental theory in order to point out the benefits and positive outcomes of adolescent empowerment and self-esteem. Although empowerment and healthy self-esteem in adolescent may motivate them to be engaged in small and big tasks to achieve their goals, the cons of implementing this intervention strategy lies in the reliance of adolescents on success. Adolescents may be used to achieving goals and cause them to focus more on bigger tasks with more rewards and ignore small tasks like cleaning their rooms.

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Zimmerman, Copeland, Shope, and Dielman (1997) also studied the impact of self-esteem in adolescent development. Using the cluster analytic approach, Zimmerman, Copeland, Shope and Dielman identified four self-esteem trajectories: consistently high, moderate and rising, steadily decreasing, and consistently low. The results of the study revealed that adolescents with high self-esteem are “developmentally healthier” while those with low self-esteem are susceptible to “peer pressure, school grades and alcohol use.” Therefore, Zimmerman, Copeland, Shope and Dielman highlighted the importance of developing self-esteem among adolescents in order to facilitate the development of good and responsible behavior.


Previously we discussed the three intervention strategies including positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement through punishments and the development of self-esteem, as methods in changing teenager behavior, especially their behavior or attitudes towards cleaning their rooms. By browsing existing literature, the researcher discovered that studies about teenage behavior and cleaning their rooms are little, but by reviewing other related empirical studies, a basic background of each intervention strategy was uncovered. Based on the empirical studies, the researcher will utilize the third intervention strategy – development of self-esteem – in research work in attempt to change teenage behavior towards cleaning their rooms and doing chores in general. The researcher chose the third intervention strategy because, aside from being a proactive method, the other two interventions – positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement through punishment – were well explored in earlier research studies. Moreover, self-esteem development as an intervention strategy is expected to yield positive and comprehensive results that could be applied in real life situations.


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