There is an old saying that goes like this, “you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I think that this expression is true when you speak of a person’s behavior as well. While you are standing right next to someone you may be able to influence the behavior choice he/she makes; however, when you walk away, that initial choice can be immediately replaced. The challenge with behavior guidance is that we delude ourselves into believing that we can actually control someone else’s behavior. We might be able to influence that behavior through systems of rewards and consequences, but ultimately if a person doesn’t “care” about the consequence of a choice he/she makes when it comes to behavior, it is virtually impossible to get that person to behave in the way you would like.
For all of us, behavior is a choice. Youth choose to get their homework done or to refuse to do it (unless of course it is beyond their skill level). They also choose to collaborate well with others or not. In the marshmallow experiment in the 1960s, preschoolers either chose to eat one marshmallow now or wait to eat two later. Behavior is a choice. It is what we at C4K like to call the “what”. Behavior is “what” you do. It is not “who” you are. When you make a behavior choice you are one choice away from either making another good choice or one that is not so good. The importance of guiding behavior is not the here and now, but the choices a young person makes when the adult is no longer there to be the Jiminy Cricket on the child’s shoulder.
Behavior guidance means helping young people understand that behavior is a choice and that there are consequences for every choice we make—some of them good some of them bad. We also need to help young people understand that a single decision can have a far-reaching affect. For example, if you choose to drop out of high school, it might be okay for a year or so, but as you get older that decision will affect your earning potential for the rest of your life. Discussing the “why” for making the choice and the possible results of the choice will, over time, help young people weigh the choices they are making and hopefully choose the positive behavior to lead to a beneficial outcome.
Let us know what you do to support behavior choices that young people in your program make. Send us information at firstname.lastname@example.org .