How Effective are Scare Tactics?
Scare tactics can be used for altercations as minor as not going to bed on time to as serious as drunk driving. One common thread in any of these, is the believability factor. If someone stands before you and tells you to do something because it isn't good for you, you may or may not listen. But if someone has experienced it, especially with devastating results, tells you why it's not a good idea to do whatever it is you are doing, you are going to be a whole lot more likeIy to listen and hopefully, heed.
Probably the most well known example of of using scare tactics came in the form of a 1978 documentary called Scared Straight. The film was made about a prison program that allowed hard core prisonesr to "talk" to juvenile delinquents. The idea was to scare them straight. The film was controversial as the tactics were unfiltered and harsh.
In addition to this, part of the actual program was to have inmates visit high schools and give a mini, diluted version for students there. Most county jails also offer a "tour." The students are not spared any abusive language and the guards do not treat them as visitors but as future clients.While these methods may not work for all kids, they DO help keep many away from crime.
Using Scare Tactics Wisely
For scare tactics to be effective, they should not be used for every little thing. Yes, it is true that not doing your homework can result in an unpleasant situation but end up as abum on the street is probably not the most effective scare tactic to use! Does this sound farfetched to you? It does to me but I have heard parents go through the litany of horrifying things that can happen to a kid if they don't do their homework. Halfway through, the kids have stopped listening and are thinking about bing anywhere but there! More effective would be a simple, natural consequence. If you don't do your homework, your grade will be lowered. Keep things in perspective. When they get older, they will begin to understand the long term consequences. Remember that if you try to hard to scare them out of every little thing, you may not be taken seriously. They may get used to tuning you out and not hear the critical message.
Scared Straight 20 years later.
The video to the right is a short clip with some of the students from the original Scared Straight documentary. It is interesting to hear what they say about the experience and how much impact it had on them.While they clearly remember the prisoner they reunite with, the details they talk about are what he looked like. They do not say how he helped them stay out of jail. In fact, in a study of nine Scared Straight programs conducted by the Campbell Collaboration, there was actually and increase of crime by about 28%.
What do you think?
Do you believe in using Scare Tactics to teach a lesson?
How believable is the scenario?
If we go back to homework scenario, I once heard a parent tell their child they would be a homeless, unlovable bum by the time they were thirty if they didn't start improving their study skills. They went through the list like this:You won't know how to study.
- You won't know how to study.
- Your grades will get worse.
- You won't graduate.
- You won't get into college.
- No one will hire you.
- You will have to live on the street.
- No one will want to marry you.
What is wrong with this scenario? Aside from the fact that you have just completely trampled on your child's self esteem, do you really think that a 10 year old is going to hear all this and say , "Well then, I better do my homework!?" More than likely, they will be saying, "Uh-oh, here they go again!"
Fear should not be the only method to Modify Behavior.
We all know the age old question. Are you more upset because you were (you fill in the crime) or because you got caught? How often have you wondered that? I believe that using fear to stop an action can also be ambiguous. The fear may stop someone momentarily.. It can be effective to stop a behavior or an action, and once we no longer see signs of that action, there is a tendency to just leave it at that. It may also just encourage them to be more discreet about what they are doing. The use of extreme or misdirected fear may also just confuse the situation.
There are some lessons that need to pack a punch. How many times have you heard, "Don't drive and text?" Yet, you still see so many people talking and texting while driving. What does it take to get some people to stop? You can reason, beg and cajole but often, people need to be faced with the stark reality of the consequences of their actions before they will even consider stopping. Remember the American Cancer Society Ads? Seeing a poster of a man smoking through he larynx because he had mouth cancer was a good deterrent for many but we can't forget the "it's not going to happen to me factor." It seems that what is needed is a combination of fear and reality.
Texting and Driving
The use of Public Announcements
There have been some very impactful commenrcials through the years that appeal to our "What if that was me?"I have included a few here.They employ a more subtle form of fear. They show what can happen if you do the offending action. They don't stand up and yell at you. They simply show you in a way that is effective and,because of the extremity of the results, frightening.
My advice if you choose to use fear to educate, use realistic and measureable results. Don't give them the litany of what will happen 10 or 20 years from now. Show them why it needs to happen now and teach them skills to make the right decisions.