NUMBER 843 • 10 OCTOBER • POINTS AND LEVELS
A program that is designed around rewards and punishments, points and levels that must be rigidly applied can be characterized as straight- forward coercion and compliance rather than an opportunity for growth.
Some people believe that the most basic way to get what you want from a child is just to make him do it. Straightforward coercion. Charlie is sitting in the living room watching TV, but does not have TV privileges. What does the worker do? Unplug the cable. Charlie refuses to do home schooling. What now? No privileges whatsoever until five hours of outstanding work is complete. Coercion is a dangerous tool to use to teach a young person in his position and does not work to motivate a child in the least. This was the case with Charlie.
Coercion is the purest form of doing to, not doing with. The young people become objects rather than subjects. The workers decide when there is a problem and what is to be done about it. And what effect did this have on young Charlie? Did he come away from this situation with any feelings of under- standing or support? Did he learn how to negotiate a solution? Nope. Hardly. He, and any other young people in the group home, learned one very important lesson from this type of intervention. The lesson is power. When you have it, you can make anyone do whatever you want.
Compliance warps the relationship between the punisher and the punished. This is especially true in a group home setting. We are dealing, for the most part, with kids who are devoid of any problem solving skills or coping strategies. Kids already have a warped sense of themselves and of adults, and of why they don’t seem to fit in – anywhere. Once we come to be seen as an enforcer of rules and an imposer of unpleasant consequences, we have lost the child. The more the kids see us as punishers, the less likely we can create the sort of environ- ment where things can change. Compliance breeds this unhealthy environment.
Smith, B. (2004) The Price of Coercion and Compliance. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 17(2). pp.40-45