By using rewards and imposed punishments as discipline strategies, we give children the easy way out—at the expense of their development and maturation. Rather than empowering them with responsibility and the gift of self-discipline, they quickly learn that temporary compliance will get them off the hook, either in the form of accepting a loss of privileges or writing apology notes that will right all wrongs. Many children would rather take the pain of imposed punishment than take the time to make difficult decisions and exert self-control.
When we use rewards and imposed punishments as motivational strategies, we are teaching kids to make their decisions based on someone else’s reaction. We reinforce the practice of people making their decisions based on how the other person is going to respond. The message tells people, “It’s not what is best for you but how the other person is going to react.”
The ultimate goal is for young people to act in a responsible way because it pays off for them—because responsible behavior is in their own best interests. If you have this vision—of what is good for them—it is going to reduce your stress in your relationships with them because it doesn’t box you into manipulative and punitive discipline modes.
The case bears repeating. In order for a person to take responsibility, the person must want to. Obedience does not create desire. Desire only comes through internal motivation, through commitment—not compliance. Responsible behavior is a chosen behavior. It can be delegated but only becomes effective when taken.
Rewards and imposed punishments, then, are counterproductive to fostering self-discipline. The paradox here is interesting. Our goal is to assist students to become responsible, self-disciplined, self-reliant, independent problem solvers. Yet, giving rewards and using imposed punishments for expected behavior set up students to be dependent upon an external agent. They set the person up to receive, rather than to give, but it is in the giving that responsibility is developed.
An inquiry into how external motivators affect behavior when no one is around reinforces the point. Here is the critical question: How effective are rewards and imposed punishments when no one is looking?