Friday, April 30, 2010

Rewards aim at obedience. They do not foster values of character education such as responsibility, integrity, honesty, empathy, or perseverance.

(Good to be Different by jnthnhys)

The following is reprinted here with permission from

The last two newsletters contained articles published in the mailring about a program that is finding increasing use throughout the U.S.A. It is referred to as Positive Behavior(al) Interventions and Supports (PBIS) or just Positive Behavior Support (PBS). It was established by the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education. The approach is behaviorally based in that it is a classic use of B.F. Skinner's positive reinforcement of operant conditioning. The program was developed as an alternative to aversive interventions that were used with  students with severe disabilities who engaged in extreme forms of self-injury and aggression.

Positive Behavior Support treats the acquisition and use of social-behavioral skills in much the same way we would academic skills. However, academic skills deal with the cognitive domain, whereas behavior has to do with the affective domain--those factors which pertain to feelings and emotions.

A basic rationale of PBS is that it is necessary to understand the "why" of a behavioral problem in order to "fix' the behavior. However, it is nearly impossible to articulate with certainty the underlying reasons for behavior. And even more important, although finding the rationale or reason for a behavior may be interesting, it has no effect on changing the behavior.

(Photo by Leo Reynolds)

My personal life attests to this little acknowledged fact. I attended speech classes all the way through elementary, junior high, and high school. When I graduated high school, I still had a severe stutter. Although much research and study gave me great insight into the cause of my behavior, it had absolutely nothing to do with "fixing my problem." In order to change my behavior, it was necessary for my brain to establish new neural patterns. Although at the time I did not know how the brain operates, I did know that in order to change behavior, it would be necessary to participate and experience new behavior patterns in order to replace my current pattern. In college, therefore, I decided to participate in new experiences such as impromptu and extemporaneous speaking, debating, and radio broadcasting.

The major point here is that when you focus on attempting to understand the reason that prompted the behavior, you are focusing on the past and simply revisiting memories. The more you stay in the past, the more you avoid working in the present. The past cannot be changed. It is useless to water last year's crops. Dr. William Glasser put it succinctly:"We do not need to find the pothole that ambushed the car in order to align the front end."

The ground on which PBS rests is faulty--and sooner or later the structure will topple.
(Photo by jpverkamp)
According to the developers of PBS, the most impressive gains in reducing challenging behavior have occurred with students who have severe intellectual disabilities. It seems to me that this is another case of both the tail wagging the dog and of tunnel vision. When I was working in the dean of boys' office in a large urban high school, I dealt solely with behavioral problems. The position could easily give one a policeman's viewpoint. Are ALL students sent to the office for disciplinary purposes? Hardly! But that was the only type of student I dealt with. In contrast, when I moved to an even larger high school (3,200 students) in a different district as assistant principal of supervision and control, I dealt with the student government leaders, athletes, as well as with students whose behaviors needed attention. I, therefore, had a more realistic perception of the entire student body.

For the advocates of PBS to impose a system on an entire school--which they are trying to do--in order to help a few seems to me hardly justifiable.

Success with special education students and students of lower intellectual abilities has more to do with motivation to learn and using procedures in a structured environment than giving rewards for desired behavior.

An integral part of the PBS is based on schools' developing rules. But rules are meant to control, not to teach. Establishing rules to have teachers reward students is counterproductive to the goals of the system--a critical factor the developers of the approach do not realize.

Rewards aim at obedience. They do not foster values of character education such as responsibility, integrity, honesty, empathy, or perseverance.

(Photo by bullcitydogs)

PBS is based on the "critical importance of consistency among people." But people differ in a myriad of ways. A focus on consistency fosters the factory approach of the 19th and 20th centuries--certainly not one for the 21st century where success is increasingly based on individual creativity and personal responsibility.
A major concern is that decision-making is team-based. It is impractical to the point of being impossible to have a team respond to every behavior. Most importantly a "one size fits all" approach is totally unfair. With some students an askance look stops inappropriate behavior; others need to feel the heat before they see the light. One could hire a layman to enforce rules. The future of this approach is destined to be short-lived if for no other reason that it is imposed top-down and, thereby, deprives professionals of their professional judgments.

PBS is based on "empirical support" or evidence of effectiveness. The aphorism is appropriate here. "Those things that count can't be counted, and those things that can be counted don't count." How can one quantify perseverance, honesty, integrity, caring, desire, positive self-talk, self-esteem and other factors that make for a responsible and successful citizenry?

The developers of PBS state that it may take a school 3 – 5 years to fully implement. A person wonders, with the turnover of so many principals in so many schools these days, how practical this approach is--especially when an approach exists which can find immediate results and have long-lasting changes. See

WHAT SHOULD A SCHOOL DO IF PBS IS MANDATED? The first step would be to present a better approach and ask for a waiver. The case would be presented by asking whether the district is willing to allow the school to try something different that the school believes will reach the objectives of PBS without using the PBS approach.

FOR AN INDIVIDUAL TEACHER WHO HAS THE APPROACH MANDATED, have a class meeting. Put the problem on the table and let the students determine the criteria to be used for the reward, and then have the students choose on a rotating basis which students will do the rewarding. In all of my studies of PBS, I have not seen anything that mandates the TEACHER to do the rewarding.
(Photo by WellSpringCS)
Two final thoughts: (1) Experience shows that rewards punish those who believe they have deserved the reward but were not rewarded. (2) Rewards change motivation so that students soon start competing to see who receives the most number of rewards.

PBS is another case of using a misguided approach based on external agents to promote responsible behavior--which is always an internal decision.

For those interested in a personal experience and a quicker, more effective approach to promote responsible behavior and learning, download the following article to read at your convenience:

While not specific to behavior programs, Sir Ken Robinson discusses the downside of school's fostering a "critical importance of conformity" on the Bonnie Hunt Show.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How about sending staff here instead of training them to apply rewards and incentives?

For two days this week, BCS is sending to training a few staff members to learn how to apply a "data driven" token/rewards/incentives system to all the children at BCS - including the vast majority of students who are already behaving well.  Instead, we could send staff to an event such as this lecture by Dr. Stuart Ablon and learn to actually meet the needs of the children actually displaying difficult behaviors: TriFold Ablon FINAL

Monday, April 26, 2010

"What will I get if I do what you want me to do?" Parents boycott PBIS at Monseigneur Remi-Gaulin school in Kingston, Ontario (part two)

(Photo by Jer Kunz)
Used with permission from, the following is from Marvin Marshall's January 2009 newsletter:
I recently received the following e-mail: "I was horrified to have a group of SECOND GRADERS ask me what I would give them if they did the work I had just assigned.  I know that rewarding has become the standard for teaching in many schools.  I hope to see this modified over time.  I hope to interest the staff at my school in learning more about the concepts of the DWS {Discipline without Stress} approach for encouraging students to become responsible, excited learners."
Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is one of these increasingly popular programs. It was created for special education students and is now being thrust on all students in many schools. The program prompts the type of student thinking described above, namely, "What will I get if I do what you want me to do?"  
PBIS is a variation of the old Skinnerian approach designed to reinforce desired behavior by using rewards as incentives. In the process of using external manipulators, intrinsic motivation for long-lasting responsible behavior is reduced--as has been repeatedly proven. Gene Griesman, Ph.D. is quoted in my book: "Several years ago, I had the opportunity to do a lengthy interview with B.F.Skinner. I concluded that I do not subscribe to much of what he taught--for example his rejection of all inferred states such as attitudes and motivation.
Last month's e-zine reported on a school in Canada that mandated teachers use the PBIS approach.  Kerry followed up on the case. She decided to see if there had been any more happening in the Canadian school where PBIS was put on hold due to the parents who decided to challenge this system.  Following is her post:
"It was Marv's posting of the original article in his December e-zine that prompted me to check in on this story again. In a follow-up article, the newspaper explains that the group of six parents hired a lawyer and prompted the school board to halt the use of PBIS in the school. There was something in Ontario law that states that parents must be consulted when the school alters its code of conduct." 
"No wonder when I contacted the woman myself and thanked her for sticking up for kids in the face of this PBIS program, she said she cried! I think the whole experience has been absolutely devastating, not only for the six families who questioned the rewards approach but also for the school.  It's too bad that such a thing had to happen to these families (whose children, keep in mind, were ALREADY WELL BEHAVED and no one ever suggests otherwise--not even the principal can say that these kids ever presented a problem at all) who simply didn't want their child's motivation level tampered with. They were already self-disciplined and well behaved; why try to appeal to them in a lower fashion with external rewards?"
"The woman, Adele Mercier, told me that when the PBIS program was in operation (and kids wore tags around their necks for teachers to punch holes in), students had to have a certain number of punches in order to try out for a soccer team, join the chess club, play on the adventure playground or even walk in the Terry Fox Walkathon to raise money for cancer. Can you believe it??"
"It's just so amazing to me that a very large number of parents in the school think that this type of thing is okay. They should be thanking the six families that took a stand. Unfortunately, much of what they think is based on misunderstandings and ignorance about the well documented [negative] results of rewarding."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Parents boycott PBIS at Monseigneur Remi-Gaulin school in Kingston, Ontario (part one)

(Photo by stevendepolo)

Used with permission from, the following is from Marvin Marshall's December 2008 newsletter:

This section is about how giving young people token rewards reinforces young people's values—rather than promoting ADULT values. The story is about a "new" (BUT VERY, VERY OLD) manipulative approach that fosters obedience rather than promoting responsibility.
The following is from a Canadian newspaper:
The weekly Huntsville Forester reported that it seems as though Bill 212 is having a positive effect at schools served by Ontario's Trillium Lakelands District School Board. The bill, passed in February, "is intended to promote a more progressive and constructive approach to student discipline." As such, it mandates that schools create new codes of conduct. According to Kevin Cutler, superintendent of SPECIAL EDUCATION (caps added) and safe schools for the district, "since the bill was implemented, of the 42 elementary schools served by the board, 37 have reduced the number of suspensions and expulsions.  All of the secondary schools had a dramatic decrease." Schools in the district are implementing a strategy called Positive Behaviour Supports to try essential strategies at the school level," Cutler said.
The article continues:
THE PARENTS' SCHOOL BOYCOTT MEANS 'WELL BEHAVED' KIDS TO MISS SCHOOL HALLOWEEN PARTY --Meagan Fitzpatrick, Canwest News Service, Wednesday, October 29, 2008
OTTAWA - At a quiet little elementary school in Kingston, Ontario, a boycott is underway by a group of parents who are forbidding their children from wearing a tag around their neck with hole punches to prove they are well-behaved.
Students at Monseigneur Remi-Gaulin School must accumulate a certain number of hole punches to be eligible for rewards such as this Friday's Halloween activities in the gymnasium.  While the rest of the school enjoys the day, those students whose parents disapprove of the new discipline approach introduced in September will stay in their classrooms, and that has their parents incensed.
You can be sure that, I will be at the school. I want to know what will happen," said Louise Meunier, one of seven protesting parents.
The purpose of the punch card, carried in a plastic pouch and tucked behind an identification tag with the child's name and photo, is to help shift the focus from reprimanding bad behaviour to encouraging and recognizing good behaviour. When students follow the rules, teachers use their discretion and either verbally compliment them for doing so, or give them a hole punch in their card.
The dissenting parents have a long list of reasons why they disapprove of the system. They claim it's unnecessary at a school where there were no major behavioural problems. They say it incorrectly focuses on rewards and that it does more harm than good.
"Our children were coming home in tears; they were very stressed out," said Adele Mercier, another parent who is leading the charge against the new system.
According to the parents, children are so worried about getting enough holes to receive a reward that it's distracting from their studies. It's also causing COMPETITION among students and SOME CHILDREN ARE NOW ASKING THEIR PARENTS HOW THEY WILL BE REWARDED FOR MAKING THEIR BED OR FOR CLEANING THEIR ROOM, CHORES THEY PREVIOUSLY DID WITHOUT INCENTIVE. (caps added)
"It's encouraging not the commission of good behaviour, but the desire to be recognized for doing it," said Mercier.  “This system is destroying the moral autonomy of our children by obligating them to seek public recognition of their self-managed behaviour," said Mercier, who teaches philosophy at Queen's University.
The school stands by its decision to implement the punch-card system and Principal Andre Dostaler said it needs to be given a chance.
"The intent down the road is that the student will appreciate the good behaviour and won't necessarily be soliciting the reward," he said.
(NOTE: This is a prime belief for the justification of the approach. However, many studies have shown the exact opposite occurs. There is not only no transfer from "external motivation" (EXTERNAL locus of control) to "internal motivation" (INTERNAL locus of control), but young people exposed to external rewards such as in this program become more selfish.)
Dostaler said changes have been made to the program based on parent feedback and that while he respects the boycotting parents' decision, it does come with repercussions for their children such as missing out on the Halloween festivities.
The principal likens the system to an air miles program, where people aren't punished for not collecting points but aren't eligible for the rewards offered unless they are participating in it.
Meunier and Mercier, whose sons are in Grade 5, disagree and say their well-behaved children--a description the principal supports--deserve to go to the Halloween activities and will view it as a punishment if they aren't permitted to attend.
(Alfie Kohn refers to this in his classic tome, "Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive  Plans, A's, Praise, and other Bribes.")
"In the mind of a child, being excluded from even a small activity like this is significant," said Meunier.
The punch-card system is based on a model called Positive Behavioural Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Normand St-Georges, the program's coordinator for the school board, provided training on the approach.
"People in the school are torn with this scenario. They don't like to have kids not go to an activity but at the same time they are stuck between a rock and a really hard place because they have to manage the system," he said.
Dostaler said that despite not wearing the tag the children are getting recognized verbally for their good behaviour.
Meunier and Mercier are convinced the school is taking the wrong approach and have taken their fight to the school board.
To paraphrase the old "Blondie" cartoon, as Dagwood Bumstead would say, "Giving kids rewards for acting responsibly makes a lot of sense--until you start thinking about it." (Marvin Marshall)

The newspaper article can be found here.

Ms. Fitzpatrick can be found on twitter here.

(photo by Paul L. Nettles)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Excellent post on the intricacies of external & internal motivation

Kevin D. Washburn is one of the educators I follow on twitter.  He's a fantastic resource and the author of The Architecture of Learning: Designing Instruction for the Learning Brain.  
Dr. Washburn blogs and today's post - Motivation, the Elusive Drive - provides a thoughtful examination of extrinsic and intrinsic motivations.  I encourage you to read it!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kids Do Well If They Can...Dr. Stuart Ablon speaks

How might we reach the children who need help with behavior and making better choices?

Collaborative Problem-Solving focuses on understanding the thinking and behavior of children so that we can help them develop the skills that are needed to behave well.
These skills include:
  • Impulse and emotional control
  • Problem-solving
  • Interpersonal and social skills
  • Adaptability

Dr. Stuart Ablon co-authored Treating Explosive Kids-The Collaborative Problem Solving Approach.  Dr. Ablon is currently the Director of Think:Kids and Director of the Psychotherapy Research Program, both at Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as being an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.  For more information about the work/research being done at Think:Kids please go to

More in the video series can be found here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Alternatives: Lost at School, Collaborative Problem Solving

From Dr. Ross W. Greene's Lost at School
“The wasted human potential is tragic. In so many schools, kids with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges are still poorly understood and treated in a way that is completely at odds with what is now known about how they came to be challenging in the first place.” READ MORE
A quote from Alfie Kohn found on the Lost at School site praising the book:
Greene removes all doubt: Even with challenging kids, rewards and punitive ‘consequences’ can (and should) be replaced with Collaborative Problem Solving. Lost at School is a detailed and immensely practical guide whose approach makes much more sense than behavior management plans and other tactics of control. It’s hard to imagine any educators, counselors, or parents who wouldn’t benefit from reading this book. And their kids will benefit even more.”

Alfie Kohn
Beyond Discipline and Punished by Rewards

More Information on Collaborative Problem Solving can be found at Lives in the Balance

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Another alternative: Responsible Thinking Process, Ed Ford

(Photo by Bill Barber)
I think BCS is fully capable of addressing issues of behavior on our own.  I do not necessarily think we need to buy a program.  However, if part of the appeal of PBIS is "having a program" then I offer alternatives to the incentive/token/reward based program PBIS offers.  

Here's an excerpt from Ed Ford's Responsible Thinking Process website:  
The Responsible Thinking Process is designed to help students develop a sense of responsibility for their own lives and respect for everyone around them. Ford describes it as a school discipline process that is radically different from traditional classroom discipline programs and school behavior management programs. It does not involve coercion, punishment, or rewards. READ MORE
Another excellent article from the website that gives a glimpse as to what it looks like at a school: Teaching Respect using RTP

Friday, April 16, 2010

A principal speaks...

I think BCS is fully capable of addressing issues of behavior on our own.  I do not necessarily think we need to buy a program.  However, if part of the appeal of PBIS is "having a program" then I offer alternatives to the incentive/token/reward based program PBIS offers.  Here a middle school principle describes her experience with Marvin Marshall's Discipline without Stress: for more information

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The goal should be to build self-reliant, responsible citizens. We want to foster the kinds of characteristics that emanate from a personality with an ethical self-image and a healthy sense of self-worth.

(Photo by BookMama)
The following is reprinted here with permission from

Discipline need not be stressful.

Discipline need not be negative.
If discipline is stressful or negative,
rewards and punishments may be the problem.


The usual approach to discipline—especially school and classroom discipline—is to teach toward obedience using rewards, punishments, and telling young people what to do. These are all external approaches and are various forms of manipulation, pressure, and coercion.

Rewards can serve as 
effective incentives—if the person is interested in the reward. School grades are a case in point. The reward of a good grade is important to some students--but of no interest to others. A reason why some students exert little effort for grades is that—to use Dr William Glasser's vocabulary—grades are not in their "Quality World." If a good grade or any reward is not important to the person, it has little value as an incentive.

Rewards can also serve as wonderful acknowledgements—ways of congratulating merit and demonstrating appreciation. Student of the week or employee of the month are examples of such acknowledgements. But notice that these are awarded after the behavior—not as bribes beforehand. {Aimee speaking here: The use of Student of the Month at BCS is highly controversial and I would argue inappropriate for an elementary school.}

As opposed to using rewards as incentives and acknowledgements, giving rewards for expected standards of behavior is counterproductive. It is also based on the outmoded idea that all behavior is modified thorough external approaches, similar to the techniques used to train animals. Internal approaches—such as self-talk—have no place in this mindset.

People who use this behavioral approach—often referred to as behavior modification—have just one objective: changing behavior. Practitioners of this approach do NOT promote ADULT values. By rewarding kids with something youngsters value (candy, stickers, prizes, etc.), we simply reinforce their CHILDHOOD values. In the process, we lose opportunities to pass on OUR values—such as generosity, kindness, responsibility, perseverance, and integrity. What we really hope to do is to teach young people about values that will last a lifetime. So, while most kids will do what you want them to do to get the treat, and it might look as if they are becoming more mature, they have not moved one step further towards becoming more responsible.

Also, a common myth is that rewards motivate young people to be responsible. They don't. The bribe becomes the focus not the desired change. Certainly, if the person is interested in the reward (bribe), there may be some short-range success.

However, regardless of how much we may think that rewards lead toward internalizing the desired behavior of acting responsibly, there is no evidence that this ever occurs. In contrast, there is much research to suggest that an "external locus of control" (external motivation) does not transition to an "internal locus of control" (internal motivation).

An example of this was vividly shared with me after one of my presentations to the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
    My name is George H. Orfe, and I am the principal from South Dakota who told you the story of the boy and the $5.00 his father gave him for each "A" grade. You asked that I relate the story to you. Here it is:
    I had a father of a fifth grader who gave his son $5 for each A on his report card. The first marking period the child received eight A's and $40 from his father.
    The second marking period ended in January, and report cards went home at the beginning of February. The father was quite upset since his son had dropped to only one A, 2 B's, and the rest C's.
    In the conference with the father, I suggested we call his son in and see what the problem was. The boy came into my office, sat down, and we began to talk. My first question was, "How is it that your grades have slipped so much this marking period," and the boy quickly responded, "I didn't need the money!"
    The father slumped in the chair.
A major problem of bribing people with rewards is that the cost inevitably increases. Although a candy bar may prompt a five-year old to behave appropriately, it will cost you more to persuade a fifteen-year-old.

Notice also that this approach promotes a mentality of, "What's in it for me?" which lacks any sense of moral development or social responsibility. The reward becomes the motivator, instead of the expected standard of behavior.

Here is a major point to remember about external rewards: they change motivation. This was clearly exhibited in the following classic story.
    An elderly gentleman spent each afternoon tending his large garden on his corner lot. A group of ten-year olds began harassing him on their way home from school. After a few days listening to their jeers and insults, he decided to act.
    The next day he met the boys as they approached his house. The gentleman told the youths that he lived alone and was enjoying the attention they were giving him. To show his appreciation, he told them if they continued showing attention to him on the next day he would give each of them a dollar. Amazed and excited, the next day they showed up right after school. They showered the elderly man with epithets and jeers. True to his word, the man put down his gardening tools, walked up to them, and pulled out a roll of bills from his pocket. He handed each youngster a dollar and encouraged a repeat on the next day—at which time he would give each of them a quarter. The kids thought that was pretty good and came back the next day to taunt him.
    The next day at the first catcall, the elderly gentleman walked over with a roll of quarters and again paid off his hecklers. He then announced that in the future he would only give them a penny.
Do you think the boys came back?

The sly gentleman's plan was elegantly simple. He rewarded the children and thereby changed their motivation from harassing him for fun to that of getting the reward. As soon as a meaningful reward was no longer there, neither were they.

Here is another point to consider. In giving young people rewards for appropriate behavior, we are fostering the concept that, when they get older, society will also reward them for such behavior. This is simply contrary to fact. When was the last time you were given a reward for stopping at a red light?

A prime point to consider when using 
external rewards to change behavior (in contrast to internal rewards such as self-satisfaction) is that they often "punish" those who fulfilled all obligations but were still NOT given the reward while others are. 

The following example clearly proves the point. It is from a post and response
The post:

I just wanted to quickly relay a rewards-based disaster.

One of our seventh-graders, in fact, the daughter of a teacher, recently wanted to go to the Positive Behavior Support (PBS) reward dance. She is an A honor roll student, never a discipline problem, and a wonderful kid. In the haste of "bribing" misbehaving students to be good, we neglected to "reward" her for doing what she had motivated herself to do. Long story short, she did not have enough PBS tickets to go to the dance. How horrible!!
Looks like rewards systems don't quite cover the good kids as well as they should. Good thing that they are intrinsically motivated and feel good about the fact that they are great kids and their teachers love them!


A response post:

Your experience really points out what I think is a 
big problem with any reward based behaviour program—the fact that the goal of the program (often not clearly stated) is simply to get kids to behave. When the goal is obedience, then the program isn't truly too worried about the kids who are already obedient. Then things happen—just as they did in your school where a wonderful child is left feeling terrible. Of course, no one intended for that to happen but still that's often the result.

That's why I feel so strongly about
 DISCIPLINE WITHOUT STRESS. The goal is to raise everyone, not just those who are a big problem—so the program can focus on all kids. That's what I love: EVERY kid gains. Some gain by bringing them up to Level C, while those who are already there gain, too. They learn about Level D, which is such a valuable understanding for living the rest of their lives. No other program that I'm aware of provides this understanding. (The levels are described at the hierarchy.)
More information about the use of rewards is available at
No argument is presented here against such societal practices for adults who have been convicted of socially harmful behavior. 
If you believe that an eight-year-old is an eighteen-yea-old, then it may seem natural to treat a young person with similar approaches. However, if you believe that young people are not yet adults, then the use of punishment to raise responsibility must be examined.

A common myth is that imposed punishments are necessary to change young people's behavior. If this type of punishment worked, then once a youngster is punished the same behavior would not be repeated. If you have used punishments to change behavior and the same behavior was repeated, read on.

Not too many of us remember that the horse pulling the buggy was urged on by a flick of the whip and that information was pounded into students by the cane, the strap, or fear of them. But since then, we have found better ways to teach; yet we are still using the horse and buggy approach to foster social responsibility in an era when both society and the nature of youth have dramatically changed.

Punishments operate on the theory young people must experience pain in order to grow into responsibility. We are expecting people whom we "intentionally hurt" to act constructively thereafter. But can you recall the last time you felt bad and did something good? People cannot think positively with negative feelings. People do "good" when they feel good. Imposed punishments can force compliance but never commitment. Have you ever seen anyone punished into commitment? Punishments kill the very thing we are attempting to do—change behavior into something that is positive and socially appropriate.

One reason we keep thinking punishment works is that sometimes the behavior stops. This may be the case with very young children if the behavior is caught early before it becomes a habit and if the punishment itself is a novel experience. However, we must also consider whether or not the subject understands which action is being punished.

Punishments are ineffective with far too many young people. Escalation is a testament to its ineffectiveness. In schools when punishments fails to work, inevitably more punishments are prescribed, and the cycle perpetuates itself. By the time some students reach the secondary level, they have been talked to, lectured at, sent out of class, kept after school, referred to the office, referred to Saturday school, suspended in school, suspended from school—and they simply no longer care.

Punishments are temporary and transitory. Fear and force only produce changes in the short run. Once a punishment ends, the youngster has "served his time" and is "free and clear" from further responsibility. A coercive approach that works in the short run does not mean it is effective in the long run. Threatening a youngster with punishment may force compliance--but only so long as the threat is present. Needless to say, it does not change behavior when the coercion is gone.
Punishments are adult-dependent, rather than self-dependent. In schools, the threat of punishments may pressure a student to act appropriately in one class but has no effect on the way the young person interacts with others outside of that class. In addition, because punishments are teacher-dependent, their use is inconsistently applied. What is a punishable offense by one teacher is not by another.

Punishments are based on avoidance, a negative response. It stirs primal feelings of fear, fleeing, or fighting. Such emotions are counterproductive to the learning process. In schools, their use automatically puts the student and teacher in adversarial roles, which usually has predictable results: (1) the student tests the teacher to see what he can get away with and/or (2) it diminishes the person's motivation to learn. Punishments kill the very thing we are attempting to do—motivate the student to learn what the teacher desires. In addition, very sensitive youth retreat into feelings of low self-esteem where they begin thinking they are truly bad.

Punishments or the threat of them do not help the young person learn how to modify the behavior involved. What the person learns—if the behavior is so strongly motivated that the young person continues it—is not to get caught the next time. Making excuses and covering one's tracks become the focus. Evasiveness increases rapidly under punishments, a sad situation in any class or family setting. Also, repeated or severe punishments have some very nasty side effects: fear, anger, resentment, resistance, revenge, even hate in the punished one—and sometimes in the punisher, too.

None of these mental states is conducive to positive growth. The goal should be to build self-reliant, responsible citizens. We want to foster the kinds of characteristics that emanate from a personality with an ethical self-image and a healthy sense of self-worth.

The reality is that imposed punishments bring feelings of satisfaction to the punisher but have little lasting effect on the punished. You can visualize this by the father who is chasing after his son, strap in hand. The mother calls to her husband, saying, "Give him another chance!" The husband yells back, "But what if he doesn't do it again!"

If the youngster has learned not to do it again, why punish him? The answer: punishments satisfy the emotions of the punisher. Punishments are reinforcing for the punisher because they demonstrate and help to maintain dominance. Until the day when a child is big enough to retaliate, the adult is the dominant one. This, unknowingly, may be the main motivation behind our tendency to punish. The punisher may be primarily interested, not in behavior, but rather in proving higher status. In essence, the parties are engaged in a power struggle. The paradox of this situation is that the youngster knows which "button" to push to stimulate anger in the more powerful adult. When the adult demonstrates anger, then the power desires of the vanquished become satisfied.
Certainly youngsters need to experience the consequences resulting from their behavioral choices, but imposing punishments is not the most effective way of inducing people to change. Change requires ownership, and an imposed punishment manifests ownership for the adult—not for the child.

The only time imposed punishments may be effective is when the person being punished (1) respects and cares for the person doing the punishing and (2) understands that the punishment is in his or her own best interest.

But in the vast majority of cases, imposed punishments engender enmity--not responsibility.
More information about the use of punishments is available at
A third common myth is that young people need to be told what to do. You can tell how effective this approach is just by completing the following sentence: "If I've told you once, I've told you . . . ."

If telling worked, you would not have to repeat yourself and people would do what you wanted them to do.

Telling and mini-lecturing are generally ineffective with young adolescents who are trying to assert their independence. Telling is often interpreted as criticism and promotes defensiveness. The parent wants to save the adolescent from the consequence of what the parent sees as a negative experience, so the parent begins to lecture. After a few minutes, a glaze comes over the young person's eyes. The parent has been tuned out. The adolescent is thinking, "I'm being lectured again" or "Just because you tell me what to do, doesn't mean I'm going to do it." The intentions of giving guidance and counsel are good, but the young person who is attempting to assert independence perceives the advice as an attempt to control. People don't mind controlling, but they dislike being controlled.

I recall a friend's sharing with me how he hated having his mother tell him to do something. Even though it was something he wanted to do, such as playing outside, he found an excuse not to do it merely because she told him to do it.

Whenever you tell someone to do something differently, you convey a message that the way the person has been performing is wrong or not good enough. Telling implies that something has to be changed, but people tend to resist change that is thrust upon them. This often creates defensiveness and a tendency to resist.

Just for a moment, think of a situation where someone told you to do something.
Now, notice how you feel. When someone tells you what to do, you are apt to think, "Don't tell me!" Telling creates a negative emotion.

Please remember this key point: A change in behavior is as much emotional as it is intellectual. Negative emotions do not engender positive changes.

Besides, when young people become adolescents, they become experts in everything. Try telling a teenager something and see how far you get.

Mark Twain articulated the situation: "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have him around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."
More information about telling is available
If these external motivational approaches were effective, discipline problems would be a footnote to teaching and parenting. These approaches are too often ineffective and are counterproductive to fostering self-discipline and responsibility. In addition, they have little lasting effect on the person whose behaviors require change.

Here is the paradox:
We want to assist young people to be self-disciplined and responsible, but 
both traits require internal motivation. Yet, rewards, punishments, and telling are external motivators and place the responsibility on someone else to instigate a change.

External motivators also fail the critical test: How effective are they when no one is around?
Rewards and punishments are opposite sides of the same coin. Rewards ask"What do you want me to do, and what do I get if I do it." Punishments ask"What do you want me to do and what happens to me if I don't do it?"

external motivators induce STRESS to both parties.

If an approach is used where people are motivated to be responsible—where internal rather than external motivation is at work—then obedience becomes a natural by-product.

Accepting responsibility is the surest and quickest way to change behavior. Such was the case as described in a Newsweek story (January 21, 2002, pages 42-44).
    A student had been constantly clowning around and misbehaving in an English class. He was sent to the office. The meted out consequence was to go back to the teacher after class and apologize. He approached Ms. Vines and said, "I'm sorry I disrupted your class." She accepted the apology. To Robert, the simple act of fessing up, standing accountable for his wrongs, struck a chord with him. He said it made him feel like a man. He started acting like one.
Robert's case is not uncommon. The key is to lead students to accept responsibility. This is accomplished by using a noncoercive, but not permissive, approach to discipline.
That is the strategy used in The Raise Responsibility System—a powerful and exciting proactive program that raises individual and social responsibility and promotes motivation for learning. The program is used across the entire teaching spectrum—from small childcare centers to large high schools and from rural schools to urban schools. The strategy also can be used in any home or youth setting. The system is part III of The Discipline Without Stress Teaching Model.
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