How to Use Behavior Modeling to Teach Your Teen New Skills

mother holding her hand out for teen daughter to give back credit card in front of store
Kevin Dodge/Blend Images/Getty Images

Have you ever noticed how kids like to copy their parents? Whether it's a 4-year-old who enjoys pretending to shave his face next to Dad in the bathroom mirror, or it's a 6-year-old pretending to vacuum the living room as her parents do, kids learn how to behave by watching their parents.

And while you might think that your teen has outgrown the desire to copy you, that's not the case. Your teen is still watching how you behave. And those observations shape the choices that he makes. 

Social Learning Theory as the Foundation for Behavior Modeling

Social learning theory provides the foundation for behavior modeling. It asserts that most behaviors are learned by observation and modeling. 

That means your teen may pick up on your unhealthy habits. So if you yell at your teen, there's a good chance your teen will learn to yell at you. Or, if you make a lot of impulse purchases, your teen may also have trouble saving money.

But the good news is, the reverse is also true. If you exercise every day or make it a habit to read a book each evening, your teen may be more likely to follow suit.

You can shape your child's behavior by modeling healthy habits.

How to Use Behavior Modeling to Teach Specific Skills

You can use behavior modeling to teach your teen specific skills. Whether you want your teen to learn how to iron a dress shirt or you want him to learn how to sort the recycling, these steps can help him remember what to do:

  1. Have your teen watch you perform the task first.
  2. Allow your teen time to process and remember the behavior you performed.
  3. Give your teen a chance to practice performing the behavior on his own. 
  4. Use positive reinforcement, such as praise, to encourage your teen to keep up the good work. 

An Example of Teen Behavior Modeling

A father wants to teach his teenager how to change the oil in the car. So he has his teen watch as he changes the oil. 

He tells his teen to write down the steps so he can review the steps on his own. That helps the teen process and remember the information.

Then, the next time the oil needs to be changed, the teen does it on his own. His father provides constant supervision. 

The father offers praise and positive feedback. He also provides correction when necessary to ensure his teen is doing it correctly.

That process will help the teen learn how to do it on his own. He'll be better equipped to change the oil without his father's supervision in the future. 

How to Take a Less Structured Yet Effective Approach

Of course, there are plenty of things your teen will learn from you without a structured approach. Your teen will naturally pick up on a lot of your behavior and attitude just by spending time with you. So it's important to practice being a good role model.

Know your values and make sure you're instilling those values in your teen. And when you want to teach your teen a specific skill or two, proactively use behavior modeling to reinforce it to your teen.

By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.