Monday, March 27, 2006

What's Wrong with Points and Levels?

Almost all group treatment programs for children use points and level systems. These systems started as a good thing, an attempt to make concrete for the kids the concept that if you do better you get more profiled and responsibility. (This is sometimes, but not always, true in life.) However, the systems grow, multiply and become more complex. They actually interfere with relationships between children and adults. For one thing, the point system becomes the language people use to speak to each other- asking "how many points did you earn today" instead of "how are you?" Adults react to things children say and do with threats of the potential consequences, rather than with curiosity and empathy. Adults spend a lot of time filling out point cards when they could be interacting with kids. One advantage claimed for such systems is that they are consistent across staff, but any child in a program can tell you that isn't true, and tell you which staff is more lenient or generous with points. And they are often inaccurate as busy staff try to fill out cards hours after the time period has passed. Many restraints start over a power struggle that begins with a child losing (or not earning) one point, and then feeling that their entire day, and in fact the entire self, is ruined and useless. So, what started as an admirable attempt to organize rewards and punishments has grown to interfere with relationships, change and growth.

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