A Thought from Scott Turansky...
I'm concerned with the amount of emphasis on external motivators parents use today to get their kids to do what they want. They say things like, “If you clean up your toys, you can have snack.” Or, “Finish your homework so that you can go out and play."
I think it’s important to re-evaluate the heavy use of behavior modification with kids because of its negative impact. Here’s why.
A continual reliance on external motivators enhances a person’s selfishness and exchanges a little gratification for a desired behavior. Children raised on heavy doses of external motivation develop attitudes of entitlement, asking, “Are you going to pay me for this?” Not only does behavior modification encourage selfishness, but it removes the moral motivations necessary for healthy and mature decision making. Kids then tend to ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” instead of “What’s the right thing to do?”
The problem is that behavior modification embraces humanistic thinking, the belief that people are just a higher form of animals. The Bible reveals something more.
God created people to be different than other animals. He gave each person a spiritual “heart,” and that heart affects the learning process. The heart contains things such as emotions, desires, convictions, and passion. In short, the heart is a wrestling place where decisions are made. A person’s tendencies come from the heart. When a child lies to get out of trouble, that’s a heart issue. If a brother reacts with anger each time his sister is annoying, that’s a heart issue too. Simply focusing on behavior may provide some quick change, but lasting change takes place in the heart.
Behavior modification isn’t wrong, it’s just incomplete, and, in the end, lacks the depth for long-term and lasting change. Even God uses reward and punishment to motivate people to follow him. However, he calls us to greater motivations than avoiding fear of hell and the reward of heaven. Love, gratefulness, and a sense of mission are inner motivations God gave to people in a different way than he does with other forms of animal life.
The heart is where people hold their beliefs. It’s where they develop operating principles about life. An attitude, for example, is fueled by beliefs. If one believes that the job description of life is to have fun, then work of any kind can be annoying. Simply rewarding kids for positive behavior may get them to perform for a time, but giving them a vision so that they believe in the goals of the family produces greater results. Kids can then catch a vision for completing a job well and aren’t dependent on the latest reward.
Too much emphasis on behavior modification encourages young people to become modern day Pharisees. Jesus criticized the spiritual leaders of his day. In Matthew 23:25 he says, “You hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
Jesus brought a new message that spirituality is about the heart. We must get that message into our homes. We must become more interested in our own hearts, not just in our actions. It’s not about looking good, clean, and nice. It’s about having a heart that follows after Jesus.
What ways do you try to reach the heart of your child?