External Approaches

Myths About Discipline |  Rewards |  Punishments |  Telling | Conclusion

Myths about Discipline

Myth #1:  Rewards motivate young people to be responsible.
They don’t. The bribe becomes the focus, not responsibility. In addition, we are not honest with young people when we give them rewards for expected behavior. Society does not give such rewards. When was the last time you were rewarded for stopping at a red light?

Myth #2:  Imposed punishments are necessary to change young people’s behavior.
Imposed punishments satisfy the punisher but have little lasting effect on the punished. If punishments worked, why are they so often repeated? Once the punishment is over, the person has served the time and has relinquished responsibility. Punishments engender enmity, not responsibility. When was the last time you felt bad and did good?

Myth #3 :  Young people need to be constantly told what to do.
Complete this sentence: If I have told you once, I have told you. . . . If telling worked, you would not have to repeat yourself. In fact, telling is often interpreted as criticism and promotes defensiveness, not responsibility. Do you like to be told what to do?

Rewards and punishments fail the critical test:
How effective are they when no one is around?

Young people want to be responsible,
but we are using ineffective approaches to help them.

Some Points to Consider about Using Rewards

Young people do not need bribes to be good.

  1. Rewards can be wonderful ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.
  2. Rewards can be great INCENTIVES—if the person wants the reward.
    (a) When we give students rewards for expected behavior, we send a false message. Society does not give rewards for appropriate behavior.
    (b) What comes of rewarding expected student behavior can be understood in remarks like, “What’s in it for me?” and “If I’m good, what will I get?” This approach undermines the social fabric of our civil democracy.
    (c) The message that a behavior is good because it is rewarded appeals to the lowest level of ethical values, viz., “What I am doing must be good because I am being rewarded.”
    (d) Giving such rewards does not foster moral development. Good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust, moral or immoral are not considered. Instead the determining factor becomes getting the “prize.”
  4. Rewards for expected behavior imply that good behavior is not inherently worthwhile.
  5. Be cautious about confusing rewards to manipulate young people with rewards as compensation. Employment is a  social contract. You perform a service for compensation. Have you ever thanked your employer for the reward of compensation?

The point is important:

Giving REWARDS for EXPECTED BEHAVIOR is COUNTERPRODUCTIVE to promoting responsibility.

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Imposing Punishments on Young People

Punishments deprive young people of the opportunity to take responsibility for their own actions.

  1. Imposed punishment moves ownership of the problem from the student to the adult.
  2. Imposed punishments is too often used for those who don’t need it. These youngsters will respond without punitive action.
  3. Imposed punishments  are adult-dependent, rather than youth-dependent. The threat of punishment may coerce a person to act appropriately in one situation but have no effect on the way the person interacts with others in a different situation.
  4. By the time some young people have reached the secondary level, some have been lectured to, yelled at, sent out of the classroom, kept after school, referred to the office, suspended in school, suspended from school, referred to Saturday school—and these students simply no longer care.
  5. Behavior may temporarily change at the threat of punishment—but not the way the student WANTS to behave.
  6. Punishment is temporary and transitory. Once the punishment is over, the student has “served his time” and is “free and clear” from further responsibility.
  7. Punishment is based on avoidance—a negative response. It stirs feelings of fear, anger, resistance, and/or defiance.
  8. Punishment in a classroom arouses resentment and invariably diminishes student motivation to learn what the teacher desires.
  9. Punishment, by its very nature, is counterproductive to good teaching because punishment fails to foster responsibility, cooperation, or positive motivation.
  10. The use of punishment in the classroom automatically creates an adversarial relationship between the teacher and the student.
  11. This adversarial relationship oftentimes results in the student’s testing the teacher to see how much the student can get away with.
  12. Some young people test the limits of acceptability. Sometimes the use of authority is necessary. However, authority can be used without being punitive.
  13. If you believe an 8 year-old is an 18 year-old, then you will use the same approach with the former as with the latter. However, if you believe that an 8 year-old is not yet an 18 year-old then you will help the youngster help himself. The coercive approach of imposed punishments are the least effective approach to promote long-lasting behavioral change.

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After childhood, telling (in contrast to sharing) is often interpreted as an attempt to control.

  1. Whenever we tell people how to do something differently, we convey a subtle, negative message that the way they have been performing is wrong or not good enough. This often creates defensiveness. That is why there is a tendency to resist, especially when telling involves notifying others how they personally need to do something differently.
  2. Telling implies that something has to be changed. People don’t mind change as much as they mind being changed.
  3. People love to control but hate to be controlled. This is especially true for adolescents who are attempting to assert their independence.
  4. Telling is akin to rewards and punishment in that all three are external attempts to change behavior.
  5. Responsibility can only be taken, not told.

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Conclusion about External Approaches

“Carrot and stick approaches” rely solely on “external” motivators. They completely neglect the more powerful “internal” approach for actuating change. 

  1. Rewards and imposed punishments are two sides of the same coin. Rewards for expected standards of behavior ask, “What will I get if I do it?” Imposed punishments ask, “What will happen to me if I don’t?”
  2. External approaches aim at obedience, but obedience does not create desire.
  3. External approaches are dependent on someone other than the person involved. Yet, the goal is to raise independent, thoughtful citizens. These goals are in direct conflict.
  4. Once the external reward is withdrawn , the effect is even worse than if it were never given.
  5. Giving rewards for expected actions is inherently unfair to those who have accomplished all that was required but do not receive a reward. Alfie Kohn refers to this as “Punished by Rewards.”
  6. The most satisfying of all rewards are the feelings one receives from the result of one’s effort. This requires “internal” motivation, not “external” manipulation.

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