Natural Consequences, Compassionate Logic: Turning Behavior Modification Inside-Out
By Catherine Knott, Ph.D.
Behavior modification, traditionally defined as altering human behavior through operant reward and punishment, works well in many instances. Yet it can work even better when, in the broader sense of the phrase ‘behavior modification’, we let the real world modify our children’s behavior by not standing in the way of their experiences. This approach is particularly important with teenagers, who will soon transition to independent lives as adults. It also works very well with younger children, who, once they learn the pattern of natural consequences, adapt to its logic with less resistance than they might to rewards and punishment created by parents and teachers.
Our children experience natural consequences every day. Most of the daily incidences they discover are minor, and may seem insignificant or even amusing to adults. “Fire ants bite,” said my sitter to me one day when I was three years old. I put my finger down on top of an ant hill to test her statement, and got bitten for my curiosity. I learned a lesson which I have remembered always: do not put your finger near fire ants. But I began to learn an important second lesson as well: it may be a good idea to listen to someone with more experience. If she had never let me have my own experience, however (in non-life or limb-threatening experiments), it might have taken me a long time to learn to listen to people with more experience. Sometimes, mistakes lead to greater wisdom.
Help Your Teen Now, Not Later
By Troy Faddis, LMFT
There are two big mistakes parents make as they lead up to a treatment decision. First, parents find the idea of “treatment” distressing and will not pursue it until something dire or even life-threatening occurs. This delay will most likely prolong eventual treatment and may mean the teen will need a more intensive treatment setting than if they had acted sooner. Second, parents will expend whatever energy and resource it takes to keep a child on track academically, even when their teen shows no interest in school. When your teen seems to prefer living off you in a sort of “teenage retirement,” hanging out with friends or isolating themselves, possibly drinking or doing drugs, a primary focus on academic performance will almost always miss the mark.
Traditional schools assume that a child is willing and motivated to learn. They also assume that the child can, and will, learn with the methods that they use. There is little room for unique learning. Unfortunately, for most of the types of students we work with in wilderness therapy, school has not gone well for a long time. They may have gotten into a pattern of alcohol or drug use, or may struggle with depression or other mental health issues. Often students have multiple problems. The pressure of returning to school in September will most likely create more stress and disappointment, leading to more defiance and withdrawal from family.
In most cases, past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. If your child’s past behavior has been one of school failure, drug use, or other behavioral issues, what has occurred during the summer that makes you think that this school year will be different? Hope for change does not bring about change. Even with repeated failures at school and outpatient therapy, parents often try the same things over and over.
Call (866) 845-1391 to learn more about our programs for teenagers and young adults.