Consequences Do Not Compel Human Beings

By Rosemond, John | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 3, 2008 | Go to article overview

Consequences Do Not Compel Human Beings


Rosemond, John, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


American parents believe in behavior modification. They believe that the same principles that govern the behavior of a rat or a dog also govern the behavior of a human being.

Therefore, they think the discipline of a child is a matter of manipulating reward and punishment. Furthermore, they think that if one manipulates reward and punishment properly, the correct behavior will ensue. If it does not, they reason that they must not have used the proper consequences.

The problem with this reasoning is that behavior modification does not work on human beings. If it did, no one would go to prison more than once, and no prison sentence would need to last longer than a few months. One can use a right consequence on a human being and the wrong behavior might persist.

Witness the many parents who have told me, over the years, that their children seem impervious to any and all consequences.

"I've tried everything," they say. I believe them. A mother recently told me that her 12-year-old persistently is irresponsible concerning his schoolwork. She and her husband took away all of his privileges and moved his bedtime back two hours, weekends included. Except for school and church and accompanying the family on outings, he has not been out of his room in two months.

Because he loves nothing more than being outside with his friends, they figured grounding him would provide sufficient motivation.

Yet, he is unrepentant. Mind you, all the parents are asking is that he properly execute his class work and homework. Until this year, he's had no school problems, so they know they're not expecting anything unreasonable. …

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