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When government systems create problems

Behaviour management

Behaviourist

Diversity

Institutional

By Michael Hawton

20th June, 2016

There is no doubt that there are emerging problems with children’s behaviour if the 35% increase in the number of children being suspended in NSW schools over the past five years is anything to go by.  Click here to find out more.

But, the main tool being currently being used by two Australian state governments to ameliorate children’s behaviour problems may be creating other problems.

There is now emerging research to show that the ‘behaviourist’ version of behaviour modification is being increasingly associated with later narcissism in young people. In other words, children who are praised too much by their carers or incorrectly praised over a long period of time develop inflated self-esteem. Click here to see Jean Twenge’s views on this issue.  And, there is also research showing that when children are incorrectly praised by teachers in a school environment that children stop trying as hard. That is, they develop what Carol Dweck calls a ‘fixed’ mindset.

So, why is it that we are allowing very large systems, like the NSW Department of School Education and Queensland Community Services to be so dominated by largely behaviourist versions of child behaviour management? Not only are these two governments spending millions of taxpayer dollars on these programmes, but the decision to use them was made between bureaucrats and academics in backroom deals.  In both cases, I learnt that neither of these deals were tendered for. Truly, what are we doing allowing one philosophy to dominate in large systems like this?

When teachers and parents are being taught to use one behaviourist viewpoint and its associated techniques by rewarding and praising children, what we are doing is being shown to foster ‘entitlement’ and later narcissism. That much is clear. And, whether or not children can be taught self-control by using praise is a matter of contention. Merely praising children does not teach children how to use their mental brakes.  In conclusion, I am sounding the bell on this issue.

What’s trendy, and used as a blanket solution by government systems, is not necessarily going to result in the best outcomes for children. When governments buy ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches the lack of diversity that follows means a compromise.  This lack of diversity also means that we will never know:

  1. The effect-sizes for shorter programs versus longer programs.

  2. The relative drop-out rates of different programs.

  3. The time taken to complete programs.

  4. The relative effectiveness of programs on like measures.

  5. The different delivery modes of programs, that is, whether they are more engaging if they are delivered online or via community-based modes.

  6. If the longer term outcomes that Jean Twenge refers to can be avoided.

When government systems get it wrong they really get it wrong so we should rightly ask pertinent questions to assess the quality of their decision making. Putting all one’s eggs in one basket is seldom a good investment principle.  - Michael Hawton, MAPS



About the author

Michael Hawton is the founder of Parentshop, providing education and resources for parents and industry professionals working with children. He has authored two books on child behaviour management: Talk Less Listen More and Engaging Adolescents.

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