Is Behavior Modification Damaging Our Children



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?
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10 comments:

  1. I think it is easy to get so frustrated by the behavior you don't take the time to examine the child's heart. I have watched many parents discipline out of frustration or exhaustion, sometimes for acts which were actually just accidents or totally misunderstood. You have to be a very intentional parent to parent the heart and that takes a lot of time and effort. I spend much of the time in my blog actually just encouraging parents to be more intentional by giving them practical steps which if followed, will help them get to know their children (and hopefully their hearts) better. It's hard to shape a heart you really don't know. In a previous post on my blog, I wrote about some specific discipline tips to help start parents bridging the gap between disciplining out of frustration and intentional discipline. Here's the link:
    http://www.parentinglikehannah.com/2012/01/discipline-secrets-from-christian.html Keep up the great work encouraging parents to parent the heart of their child and not just the behavior!

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    1. Hi Thereasa, I just looked at your blog and I love it. We do a blog article exchange regularly and use Friday's blogpost for guest bloggers. Might that interest you? Also, I've followed you on Twitter. Thanks for sharing on our blog. I'm glad to get to know you and look forward to partnering more with you in the future. --Scott

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  3. I think we tend to use behavior mod for a simple reason. It works! At least in the short run, it gets the result that we are after. It works for my dog. I taught him to bring in the paper using behavioral modification. But I agree with you, it doesn't change the heart. Actually, I've seen more hearts negatively influence by behavioral mod. That happens when people act differently than they feel. Their hearts become crusted and hard. They doubt and eventually break and give up on real spiritual growth.

    I believe that if you really want to change a heart, you do it by modeling real heart change. You have to be vulnerable and demonstrate that your children can be vulnerable too. Parents need to allow and encourage questions. Parents need to model that they are still growing and that it is OK to be less than perfect. Children are naturally incline to mimicking the actions and attitudes of their parents. They usually will unless they rebel. Rebellion comes when they feel shut out or stifled.

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    1. HI Steve. I appreciate your words. Very true. Thank you for sharing on this blog.

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  4. Good piece! I'll post this on our FB page! I really like the statement, "Behavior modification isn’t wrong, it’s just incomplete, and, in the end, lacks the depth for long-term and lasting change." It can be such a chellenge for us to consider what consequence or teaching tool will best help our children understand that "you reap what you sow" rather than "You reap whatever punishment or reward seems to best motivate you in the moment."

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  5. I too like the statement, "Behavior modification isn't wrong, it's just incomplete ..." Totally agree.

    The bottom line in regard to the heart is if the child has submitted to the Triune God - does he walk with God? So much of what we do with children leads to legalism because we expect them to change behaviorally when they as yet know not God.

    Parents have little power over this happening as this is the Holy Spirit's job - however we can pray, pray,pray. We can present the gospel, we can share our own walk with God, we can live a life that shows that God is the most important person in our lives.

    I am continually amazed at the amount of parents that don't have an urgency in regard to their children's salvation.

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    1. Wanda, thank you for interacting with me on this. I totally agree with you. I'd like to take your comment to the next question parents might ask and that is, What if my child's heart isn't in a good place? Or, what if my child isn't saved yet? What do I do with family spirituality because I don't want to encourage hypocrisy? I would suggest that the Bible encourages parents to interact with their kids spiritually even if those children haven't made a personal commitment yet. It's as if parents are building a spiritual container by taking their kids to church, teaching them how to pray, and serving God together. Then we pray that God would breathe life into that work we do. Would you agree?

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  6. A lot of single parents use behavior modification simply because they are trying to keep up with the other parent. Many times parenting the children is actually a war that is being fought between the two parents. So in reality the kids aren't really being parented at all. They are left scratching their heads trying to figure out exactly what they are supposed to be doing.

    Something else single parents don't think about is kids are smart and they figure out real fast how to play the game of "let's see what I can get out of each parent" and they will use the rewards from behavior modification to entice the other parent to give them what they want.

    Children in divorced homes need parenting from the heart. Many of their hearts are hurting and bruised. They need to be introduced and encouraged to adopt heart behaviors. They need to develop a heart that follows Jesus. For in Jesus their is hope for their situation of living in two homes.

    Linda Ranson Jacobs
    DC4K Creator and Ambassador

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