Yesterday’s Discipline Techniques Won’t Work Today

A reader wrote to me: “I have heard many teachers say with sadness or disgust, ‘Kids are not the same as they were when I started teaching.’ If students are different, how can the same way of dealing with their behavior still be effective? Isn’t it evident that the system of rewards and consequences is not working when the same students continually misbehave throughout their school careers in spite of all the opportunities for rewards they are offered and the numerous consequences they have incurred?”

This reader is correct! Kids are different today. These days, children are exposed to different environments than those in earlier generations. This is one of many reasons that traditional discipline approaches based on coercion are not as successful as they once may have been. Here are just a few of the changes in society that are influencing today’s youth:

  • Internet access to information
  • Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube
  • Instant communications by cell and smart phones
  • Really Simple Syndication Internet feeds such as blogs
  • Emphasis on children being the center of family life
  • Advertising aimed at youth
  • Substance abuse
  • Mass media: violence, sex, and short sound bites
  • Number and gender of parents
  • Types of models and heroes
  • Music and lyrics
  • Protection of childhood innocence—or lack of it
  • Social interaction and developmental play—or lack of it
  • Sense of community—or lack of it
  • Emphasis on rights rather than on responsibility
  • Increased peer influence and pressure
  • Lower levels of social skills and impulse control

A by-product of the ease of access to information and contact with others in our technological age is that many young people feel more control over their lives. Today’s young people know and exercise their rights and have an unprecedented level of independence.

As such, when a parent or teacher tries to change a youth’s behavior by forcing obedience—by using discipline techniques that rely on threats, punishments, bribes, or other coercive or manipulative tactic—the reaction is often resistance.

In contrast, if you view young people’s misbehavior as a learning opportunity—a chance to help them grow and develop—then misbehavior can become a prompt for meaningful communications. And when you use the three powerful, enduring, and universal practices of positivity, choice, and reflection (all of which are discussed in detail on this site), you will be amazed at how cooperative your children become.