We are constantly teaching our teenagers what works. Whatever behavior you reward you should get more of. Whatever behavior you punish you should see less of. Simple.
Consider Junior Smith. Junior gets in trouble in school a lot. When the school calls his parents to let them know about Junior’s behavior they have good intentions of giving Junior a good scolding and discipline him. However, when Junior is with them the story is very different. Junior makes it sound like he’s a victim of the school personnel’s lack of due diligence to get to the truth. He makes his parents feel guilty because they chose to send him to this private school instead of his old school which he wants to go to. Junior knows just how to push their buttons. After all, he’s spent his whole life studying them. His parents back down in their intentions to ground Junior, and let him off with a scolding. Thus Junior is rewarded for his victim talk and guilt tripping. He knows this tactic works and he is sure to keep doing it. There are few guarantees in parenting, but one guarantee we have is that when kids know how to have power over us they will find that irresistible.
What behavior are you rewarding in your kid? It’s simpler when they are smaller. Did you give in when your toddler screamed in the grocery story for the sweeties? If you did then he discovered what worked and he’s sure to keep doing it. If you didn’t, then he tried something else eventually. When your 9 year old who interrupted when you were talking to someone else got your attention and you gave him what he needed, you rewarded rude behavior and he probably still interrupts you.
So on one side we want to never reward poor behavior, but on the other side we want to always reward good behavior. Do you always punish your kid for bad grades but never reward him for good ones? When your teen opens up to you about his problems do you reward her for being able to talk to you? Or do you jump into “fix her” mode and make her feel bad for the thing she opened up to you about? If your kid feels punished for opening up, then why are we confused about why they don’t open up anymore? This can show up in infinite number of ways. How does this very simple principle play out in your family?