Some Thoughts on Rewards and Punishments


Using rewards is a flawed discipline strategy. Granted, rewards can work as incentives. And in competition, rewards can be very effective motivators—but not so in learning. Grades are a case in point. They only serve as an incentive if the student is interested in obtaining a good grade. Also, grades rarely produce the highest quality learning because the focus is on the grade, not the best work a student is capable of doing.

Rewards are wonderful acknowledgments. However, in The Raise Responsibility System, rewards are not given for expected standards of behavior (a common practice). Giving rewards for appropriate behavior is counterproductive to promoting responsibility. Rewards change motivation from an internal to an external source.


Adult punishments are used for penalties, retribution, justice, or fairness after socially irresponsible acts. The objective with youth should not be to punish but to foster social responsibility so that punishment (and discipline) is not necessary.

In The Raise Responsibility System, punishments are not a focus.

  1. Punishments are based on a faulty belief that the authority figure needs to cause suffering in order to teach, to hurt in order to instruct.
  2. Punishments are an ineffective discipline strategy with far too many youth.
  3. Punishments satisfy the punisher more than they promote responsibility.

Rewards and punishments are counterproductive to fostering self-discipline and responsibility. They are external stimuli and, therefore, have little lasting effect on the person whose behavior needs changing. If you don’t agree, answer this:

  • How long does candy or free time last? For how long are they remembered?
  • Are the same students assigned detention again and again?
  • How effective are rewards and punishments when no one is looking?

Here is the paradox:

Our goal is to assist students to be self-disciplined and independent problem-solvers. Yet, rewards and punishments set up students to be dependent upon external stimuli. What are your thoughts on this?