Sunday, December 14, 2008

We encourage gangs and violence by giving them positive reinforcement in the form of publicity

Christopher Yanov points out that we've been giving positive reinforcment to gangs and violence by talking about them every chance we get. Didn't psychologists discover about a hundred years ago that the way to extinguish unwanted behavior is to ignore it? I don't mean that the police should ignore crimes; I mean that the rest of us should shift our focus to the good things kids do.

Focus on Achievement
Voice of San Diego
December 12, 2008

...[W]hy should youths from disadvantaged backgrounds have to be arrested first in order to have national service programs solicit their help? It would keep them out of trouble in the first place if such programs promoting positive behaviors became more entrenched in youth cultures.

...[P]revention programs that are "anti-anything" just further entrench the legitimacy of the targeted negative behavior. In a related example, politicians at all levels are encouraged to never mention their opponents' names during a campaign and prevention programs would be wise to take a page out of this play book. Gang prevention programs should shift their energies to focusing on the achievement of positive goals and not continue to (unintentionally) give credence to negative behaviors.

Case in point: For the five years before starting Reality Changers that I worked with youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, all we ever talked about was gangs and drugs. And guess what all of them did? Gangs and drugs, gangs and drugs ... spiraling towards more and more violent behaviors. However, for the past seven years at the Reality Changers program, all we ever talk is becoming the first person in each's family to go to college. And guess what all of them do? Go to college! These students from the same streets (and in many cases from the same families) have been able to transcend the code of the streets because they have entrenched themselves in a positive, goal-oriented culture.

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