So I recently read Unconditional Parenting
by Alfie Kohn. He's the guy who wrote Punished by Rewards
which was a love it or hate it type book. His focus is how we (in school, businesses, and in parenting) have bought into the concepts of Skinnerism and behaviorism. We dangle to chance of reward or the threat of a punishment in front of people to manipulate them to change their behavior. Its everywhere. In schools there are grades and gold stars, at work incentives, at church badges for scripture memory, at home time-outs, spankings, praise, and bribes. Kohn's theory is that contrary to common belief the use of such manipulation actualy causes people to be less motivated and less interested in the behavior itself. He uses many studies to prove his point.
His parenting book took his theory a step further in that he claims that not only are the methods of behaviorism (bribes, threats, time-outs, spanking, praise) not effective (and sometimes cruel), they stand in the way of our childing knowing that we love them unconditionally. For even if we say that we love our children as we manipulate them in order have their behavior line up with our desires - what really matters is what the child perceives us doing. If the child perceives that we only express interest in them (act happy) when they perform tasks well - the message they internalize is that our love is conditional on their performing well. While I fully reaffirmed his theories on why hitting/spanking children is always wrong, the book caused me to think hard about the subtle messages other more accepted forms of disipline send to children. And to evaluate as he suggests what the ultimate goal of all of my interactions with my child is. Am I encouraging her to be the kind of person I want her to be, or am I using my power over her by giving or witholding my love in order to get her behavior to be the way I find most comfortable.
The book has sparked a lot of thought for me and some good discussion. I highly recommend it for anyone who has kids or works with kids. Even if you don't agree with all of it, it helps to see how deeply behaviorism has infiltrated our culture.
Labels: Book Reviews