E. Scott Geller

By Scott Geller

Geller is Alumni Distinguished Professor in the Center for Applied Behavior Systems at Virginia Tech.

I recently came across John Rosemond’s Aug. 12 column in the Roanoke Times, titled “Alpha speech a matter of properly conveying authority” and found it so wrong-headed that I am obligated to reply with this research-based divergence.

As a researcher of interventions to improve human welfare and life satisfaction for 50 years, I must strongly disagree with Mr. Rosemond’s presentation of “alpha speech” as “the essence of proper child discipline,” which Mr. Rosemond labels “leadership speech.” Indeed, I am extremely disappointed and distressed that numerous parents and caregivers read such incorrect and damaging advice, and might even believe his advice and follow it. How unfortunate that his inaccurate rant supports those caregivers who currently practice this detrimental approach to parenting.

Of course, it is wrong to criticize without providing a reasonable explanation and an appropriate alternative. Although Mr. Rosemond tells us to give children directions without an explanation — just say, “Because I said so.”

Limited space does not enable me to explain in detail the evidence-based fallacy of Mr. Rosemond’s column. So below I only list three critical inaccuracies in the Aug. 12 column, with hopes the education and experience of most readers will support my disagreements with Mr. Rosemond.

First, effective leaders do not give instructions without an appropriate rationale. Why, because leaders want their followers to own the directions and feel self-motivated and empowered to follow them. This is more likely to occur when the followers perceive some degree of personal choice in their direction-following behavior. Bottom line: Effective parents are leaders, not managers. Managers control behavior with external contingencies, but leaders inspire self-motivation by facilitating perceptions of choice, competence, and community.

Second, the term “discipline” is derived from the same Latin root as “disciple,” with English translations of “pupil” and “to learn.” There is no information or instruction in merely pointing out a mistake (“That’s wrong!”), or when following an error with a negative consequence — a penalty.

Contrary to Mr. Rosemond’s column, “time out” is the most effective way to decrease occurrences of undesirable behavior, but its success requires appropriate verbal behavior from the parent, including an appropriate explanation. Wrong again Mr. Rosemond, less speech is not more effective.

Third, teachers and practitioners of effective parenting and caregiving use more positive than negative consequences to improve children’s behavior, but they do not refer to this approach as “behavior modification.” Mr. Rosemond’s use of this term demonstrates his extreme lack of awareness regarding the application of behavioral science to improve behavior – at home, in schools and organizations, and throughout communities. The substantial research evidence supporting applications of behavioral science to improve behavior cannot and should not be denied.

So much more could be said about the misinformed “top-down” and “control-oriented” approach to parenting advocated by John Rosemond, who spreads this BS (Bad Science) nationwide as a syndicated columnist. How unfortunate that a column on parenting is not offered by someone who can share research-based information instead of one person’s biased “commonsense”.

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