What is more effective, incentives or punitive consequences? In my own life and work experience, I have seen that incentives work much more sufficiently than punitive systems. Working towards goals, even linguistically indicates progress. Losing privileges moves a person backwards. Most of (I qualify this with "most") the adolescents I work with respond negatively to losing things and tend to act out more and, most vitally, this system reinforces the incredible amount of loss many of them have experienced most of their lives.
Increasingly, I am seeing how punitive systems exist throughout life. Have you ever had an employer that provided almost no incentive to go above and beyond your job? No chance for merit raises, no retirement plan or benefits, absolutely no overtime pay even if a position requires weekly overtime hours to get all the work done......I think you get the idea. Many times employees have to seek their own incentives within a position. For myself, I love working with clients. Being able to even be a small support in their lives, even if I do not get to see what happens to them in their future lives, is a huge incentive. Having amazing coworkers adds to it too.
Of course, the legal system is inherently punitive by nature. This can be effective, however, if you look at the rate of recidivism in strictly punishing systems, you might question the strength of them. Getting a speeding ticket for Average Joe can be a good wake up call. Eighty-dollars can be half the grocery money and enough of a hit to make them more cognizant of the speed limit (at least on that particular stretch of highway). There are also cases when this system breeds more effective criminals: the small time drug dealer who makes additional connections in jail, the schooling in building a better criminal, etc. Some of the recidivism and negative reinforcement can be reduced with additional counseling, education and programs within the jails and prisons, but those require funding (sigh, doesn't everything?).
For myself, incentives are key. In working towards my own personal goals, "gifts to myself" are effective. Establishing planned incentives and recognizing the inherent happy feelings attached to reaching milestones along the way to the ultimate warm fuzzy are imperative for me. Frequently, I need to review and remind myself of what these gifts are in order to not lose view of the pinnacle. On the flip-side, I have not tried a punitive plan for myself, so perhaps it would be effect ("personal self-reflective experiment plan" seed planted), or maybe even utilizing both would be dually encouraging. This definitely requires additional thought.
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