Monday, March 27, 2017

ACLU, Integrity and Child Discipline

The opportunity to imbue one's self with wisdom may be anachronistic to the task at hand but nonetheless adds value to one's behavioural repertoire. Such was the case when I retrieved my mail today. I again received a membership renewal notice from the American Civil Liberties Union. I took pause to consider the implicit statement of integrity this piece of mail attributes to the ACLU and its correlation to behavioural conditioning. Boldly written across the header of this correspondence is "FINAL MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL STATEMENT" which has appeared on similar mailings that I received approximately bi-monthly since my membership expired at the conclusion of the year 2014. This leaves me to wonder about the definition of "final" as well as the integrity of an organization which proclaims to have made a "final" statement yet has sent duplicates no less than on 10 additional occasions.

This behaviour reminds me of the frustrated parents who berate their children with attached "final" warnings spewed ad nausea who then bemoan the child's procrastination. These parents attribute the lack of compliance to fault or character deficiencies of the child. Actually, though, these children are expressing a conditioned response consistent with the training by the parent. These children have learned that "final" or "last" means approximately 20 times prior to the terminus which is usually accompanied by physical compulsion. Not unlike myself, most children do not appreciate being nagged.

Once the ACLU demonstrates firmness in their declaration of finality and ceases the nagging I will fire away my payment to them and get my membership renewed. Once parents demonstrate integrity by holding firm and being honest in their statements of intent and consequence then a corresponding behavioural response will erupt from the children.

Doubt that it will work? Try this. Tell the child to, by a particular time, cease using some specific electronic device or whatever is the means of impedance to initiating the fulfillment of a requested task Then if that time passes without compliance retrieve the object without warning or statement, take it out to the road and, smash it with a sledgehammer, brick or whatever is handy. Ask the child to clean up the mess and then perform the requested task. Next time a task is requested make it while holding the means of destruction in your hand and observe the child's peppy compliance.

This is the conditioned response of classical conditioning which Pavlov made famous using a dog, a bell, and food. The dog became conditioned to salivate upon hearing the bell because it knew food was soon to follow. Children response remarkably well to conditioning.

This anecdote provides a good example of operant conditioning. When my son was a youngster I took him to the home of three friends who we were going to take to the ice cream park in town. I go chat with the mother for awhile while my son goes to play with his friends. Sounds of a demolition crew are coming from the bedroom they are in which is accompanied by rattling walls. Every few moments the mother would shout at them to "stop jumping on the bed or else." After this occurred a few times with only a very brief cessation of the ruckus each time I gracefully walked to the bedroom doorway and leaned against the frame. One by one the children saw me and sat down with legs crossed. Once all were patiently looking me in the eye I asked if they were to be jumping on the bed and three responded no, as predicted, and the other indicated that he was unsure. Then I asked if they had heard the mother say to stop: to which all replied affirmatively. I then said sounds sure enough to me, told my son to get in the car, and we left. We got home and he was given the choice to study or sit quietly doing nothing. They learned that compliance with my rules brings a reward while defiance results in a denial of reward or punishment.

These children all demonstrated the expected response from their conditioning. That mother rarely got off her ass to enforce her demands until she had already uttered them at least 10 times. I, alternatively, took the approach of you were once made aware of the rules, had demonstrated previous knowledge of and compliance, and you would not get a warning that you were not in compliance. A short time before that bed jumping incident these three children had accompanied my son and I on a 45 minuted journey to the Putt-Putt course in Lafayette. As we neared town one screamed that the another was touching her. So, I responded that yelling is not permitted in my car and that no one is to be touching anyone else unless invited. Then I asked if they understood and to repeat the command which they did.

As I was pulling money out of my wallet to pay for our games I heard, "Let go of me!" I turned around, told them to get back in the car, drove back to their house in dead silence, went in to tell the mother why they were back so soon, then told them "bye". My son and I went on to do some other activity that he wanted to do as he had played no role in the offense.

Children are quite adept at performing as requested. Most of the frustration parents feel from unruly children comes from their failure to properly instill discipline; their conditioning of the children. Now if the ACLU would demonstrate some honesty and integrity in their membership solicitations I could renew.

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©2008, 2014 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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