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Behavioral Modification Programs: Finding the Right Fit for Your Teen

Behavioral Modification Programs, Are They Right for Your Teen?

Updated on January 29, 2024

The world of mental health has changed significantly in recent years. A deeper understanding of trauma and mental health in general has led to changes in the way professionals approach treatment, especially for younger people.

Yet treating mental health doesn’t always impact negative behaviors. Another option to deal with negative behaviors, such as drug use or self-harm, beyond mental health treatment is behavioral modification.

B.F. Skinner, the psychologist who introduced the concept of behavioral modification

American psychologist B.F. Skinner introduced the idea of behavioral modification at Harvard University in the mid-1900s. He believed that behavior could be modified using a series of positive and negative punishments.

By using these, he found that the likelihood that a behavior would be repeated could be increased or decreased based on the potential reward or consequence.


Behavioral modification programs are a new industry standard for mental health treatment for teens. These programs are not boot camp-style or military school structures. Rather, they are a type of behavior therapy that reinforces positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors through rewards and consequences.

The goal of this type of intervention is to reduce or eliminate negative behaviors so teens can move past their challenges.

The Main Idea Behind Behavioral Modification Programs

Behavioral modification is based on the research of B.F. Skinner believed that learned behaviors could be unlearned using positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. This happens in a structured environment where the teen feels safe and is prevented from any self-destructive behaviors so that the teen can focus on their behavior.

These programs also remove the overwhelming circumstances of life, create an environment of supportive warmth, and immerse the teen in a place where they’re encouraged to introspect.

By setting up the environment in this way and then bringing in Skinner’s ideas about positive and negative reinforcement, these programs are able to elicit change in behavior for many teens. Once the teen has learned the positive behaviors and replaced the negative ones, they can often return to normal life better able to cope with the stressors it brings.

A key difference between a behavioral modification program and a mental health therapy program is the fact that behavioral modification focuses on behavior only, not the underlying mental health concerns.

Teens who have gotten into bad habits affecting their behavior, such as if they are stealing, using drugs, refusing to go to school, or acting in rage, may benefit from learning healthier behaviors through behavioral modification.

How Behavioral Modification Programs Help

Behavioral modification programs help when mental health programs fall short. Sometimes, teens get into patterns of behavior that do not change, even when they’re able to change their patterns of thinking.

Behavioral modification programs help because they don’t just punish negative behaviors. Many parents find that doing this at home is not effective, and the child keeps returning to their negative or dangerous behaviors.

With behavioral modification, the program also supports and reinforces good behavior. By not only discouraging negative behavior but also reinforcing positive behavior, these programs are able to increase the likelihood that the teen will choose the positive behavior rather than the negative one.

Yet it’s not as simple as just praising and punishing behavior. These programs systematically set up the reward and punishment in such a way that they can eventually phase them out.

Early in the program, rewards or punishment happen nearly every time the behavior occurs, and then eventually, the interval of response changes. Over time, the reinforcement thins out until the teen is able to perform the behavior without consistent reinforcement.

In addition, these programs set up:

  • Clear expectations and rules followed by clear rewards and punishments.
  • A positive culture of peers who are all working on improving their behavior.
  • Balanced structure to daily life.
  • Removal of the stresses of daily life.
  • Enlistment of the parents in helping the teen move through the behavioral modification program.


When used alongside mental health therapy, behavioral modification can be quite successful at creating lasting change.

Types of Behavioral Modification

There are different types of programs that fall into the realm of behavioral modification. These include:

  • Residential behavioral modification programs – This program takes a teen and puts them in a residential environment where they attend therapeutic programming while receiving behavioral modification help. By completely changing the environment, these programs are usually quite successful at creating lasting behavioral change.
  • Therapeutic treatment – These programs happen on an outpatient basis and involve the teen as well as the family. The goal is to create a behavior modification program that works well and to have it extend to the home environment.
  • Token economy programs – In a token economy, teens earn rewards that they can use to gain more status or to “buy” physical items, and they can also lose the same rewards through negative behaviors. The rewards may be points or a tangible item, such as money.
  • Wilderness therapy – Wilderness therapy programs often employ behavioral modification techniques. These programs place students in nature, where they learn the natural consequences of their behaviors while camping. Removing technology and other modern comforts can help teens focus on their behaviors more intensely.

Is Your Teen Struggling? Seek Help to Find the Right Behavioral Modification Program

Behavioral modification is one option when you have a struggling teen. It works well for some teens, but it’s not the only option. To get the right help for your struggling teen, consider seeking help and support from a trained professional who understands teenagers, their behavior, and their mental health struggles. With the right support, you can find the program that will best support and help your teen.

Don’t let uncertainty hold you back from taking a positive step forward. Reach out to us today for personalized support and advice tailored to your unique situation. Together, we can find the most effective path to help your teen thrive. Contact the team now for more information and embark on a journey towards healing and growth.

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4 Types of Behavioral Modification

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