When we emphasize rewards to change a child’s behavior, we enter some dangerous territory in the child’s heart. Behavior modification works because it takes advantage of a child’s selfishness. Too much behavior modification in a child’s life actually increases that selfishness. Kids might do what we ask but there’s a deeper price we’re paying that must be considered.
Let’s step back a minute and see the science of behavior modification developed. In the early 1900s, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov made an exciting discovery as he worked with dogs. If he consistently rang a bell just before he fed the dogs, he could eventually train the dogs to salivate by simply ringing the bell even without the food. And over the next few years a complete system of behavior modification was born.
In the 1920s, John B. Watson began using the same strategies on people. In fact, it wasn’t long before behavior modification became a primary way to help people stop smoking, lose weight, and deal with a host of other behavioral issues. In time, behavior modification influenced the public-school classroom as well, and teachers used it to help children learn. By the 1950s behavior modification had also become the primary tool for parenting. Giving rewards and punishment to children worked quite well to modify their behavior.
Unknowingly to many, however, a problem began to develop in the way people think. Attitudes of selfishness and entitlement often increase in the hearts of kids who are raised on heavy doses of behavior modification. Many of those kids take longer to grow up today because, in the end, behavior modification may get kids to jump through short-term hoops, but it does little to build in kids life skills to handle the adult world. It’s time to re-evaluate the heavy use of behavior modification throughout our culture because of its negative impact. Here’s why.