Social Learning Theory: Properly Applied or Just an Excuse?

Tabetha M. Cooper

Anytown (film)
Anytown (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here in Anytown, the outraged cries or the joyous exclamations can be heard from citizen.  The local Department of Job and Family Services have implemented a policy stating that any parent that has been arrested for domestic abuse, child abuse, or anything to do with drugs or alcohol will have their children removed from their home.  Upon removal the children will become a ward of the state and be placed within a variety of foster homes throughout the community.  Parents who have lost their children will have to complete at least one of the following treatments, and in some cases all of them, prior to the return of their children: alcohol and/or drug treatment, counseling, family therapy, mental health treatment, anger management, life skill classes, and/or parenting classes.  When implementing this policy the Department of Job and Family Services called into reference the Social Learning Theory as a means to support their actions.  Today, the issues of benefits vs. the negatives, ethical/moral issues, and the impact on everyone involved will be addressed.  Then the meaning of Social Learning Theory and whether or not the theory was indeed applied correctly will be explored.  The discussion will end with my personal opinion on this issue.
There are a few benefits to this new policy.  It reduces the chances of children being mistreated.  It also lessens the exposure, that each child in those conditions is subject to, that can have a negative impact on what they learn.  Some children will be exposed to a more positive environment and 
Children of the United Kingdom's Children's Mi...
Children of the United Kingdom's Children's Migrant Programme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
improved living conditions.  Although the negatives that come along with this can counter the benefits.  The negatives include, an overcrowding of foster homes, some children being taught more negative behaviors from other children than what they would have learned within their own homes, and education can be at risk because the children may be more concerned with what is going on in their personal life and less worried about school work.  Another issue that should be taken into account is that the court system may begin to become clogged not only with the parents who are trying to gain custody of their children back but by allegations against foster parents.
This policy infringes on the rights of parents.  Their children are being ripped from their homes without an individual cause.  The charges of spouse abuse, “child abuse, and drug/alcohol problems are the leading reasons that children get removed from the home to begin with,” (Weldon, 2001, Foster Care: A Psychological War).  Although if the parents have already had documentation of these issues then one would infer that they have already paid for their injustices.  Either the state at the time of the charges the state deemed the home safe or the children have already been removed and allowed to return.  It must be asked, after a man or woman pays for their crimes is it ethical or moral to make them pay a second time?  Is that not double jeopardy without a second trial?  Ethnically what this policy is doing is not exactly right.  Some of these parents have committed these offenses prior to 
Length of stay in U.S. foster care
Length of stay in U.S. foster care (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
even having children, and now the well-being of their child is at risk due to something that had happened in their past.  With a policy like this every parent here in Anytown has to be aware of their action and live in fear that a decision that they have made and deemed acceptable can ultimately cost them their children, even for a small portion of time.
Everyone in the community is going to be affected by this policy.  The thing that will affect every citizen the most is the increase in taxes that will have to be implemented to support all the foster homes.  As a result of the increase of taxes, the economy will start to suffer.  Less money in the pockets of the citizens means less money to pay bills and to acquire the items that are essential for everyday life.  Without people spending money, factories and stores will begin to layoff and even shut their doors, decreasing our job availability here in Anytown.  Parents will also be at risk of losing their jobs, as it is, because of trying to complete the programs required to get their children back.  This will make meeting the Department of Jobs and Children’s required standards take more time.  As stated by Charlotte Weldon (2001), children are at risk of suffering from psychological problems such as separation anxiety, behavioral issues, and depression.  The family unit will have to readjust upon the return of the children, adding unwarranted stress to everyone in the community.  There is a large chance of the development of psychological issues from having to witness the problems in the home, and then add the stress of being moved from home to home numerous times.  It can be foreseen that the damages that this policy can cause that it may actually cause an increase in crime among Anytown’s youth. 
Photos taken at the 2007 National Children's M...
Photos taken at the 2007 National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day celebration in Washington, D.C. For more information on National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, visit www.samhsa.gov/children (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The basis of this policy is the Social Learning theory, defined as “the view that people learn to be aggressive by observing others acting aggressively to achieve some goal or being rewarded for violent acts” (Siegel, 2007, p.109).  It can be seen how the Department of Jobs and Children thought that by implementing this policy that they were doing the community a favor, based on the definition of Social Learning theory.  In a home where charges of domestic or child abuse have been a problem in the past, one would infer that the children of these parents would observe violent behavior.  Although, something that hasn’t been taken in account is the aggressive behavior these children see with their peers and on television.  Removing a child from their home does not extinguish these observable factors.  Then it must be discussed that children of parents with drug and alcohol problems may never be subjected to aggressive behavior, in fact these children may never even see their parents using these things.  The definition also states that the aggressive behavior being learned through observation is deemed good to the child because the behavior is being rewarded.  Parents that have been arrested or at the very least charged for the behaviors that the policy specifies as unacceptable, so they did not get rewarded, but instead punished.
Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.
Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In my personal opinion, the Department of Jobs and Children misinterpreted the Social Learning theory.  This theory not only covers just bad behaviors learned at home but things that are learned through watching friends, television, video games, or any form of behavior observation where aggressive behavior is rewarded.  The man that came up with the Social Learning theory was Albert Bandura.  Recounted by Schacter, Gilbert, Wegner (2009), Bandura came up with an experiment called the “Bobo Doll Studies,” where he had two groups of children observe adults acting aggressively with this doll.  One group saw the adults get reprimanded for being aggressive with the doll and the other group observed that the adults didn’t get in any trouble for such behaviors.  The children that witnessed the reprimanding of the adults acted less aggressively with the doll but the children that seen no punishment handed out for the behavior mimicked what they seen the adults doing to the doll.  These children were not ever exposed to aggressive behavior prior to this study yet they still acted aggressively toward the Bobo doll.  The adults they were observing weren’t even their parents, which shows that learned aggressive behaviors can be learned outside the home.
I believe that they failed to take into account all the other negative things that not only these parents and children with have to endure, but the negative impact on the community as a whole.  I think that this policy is not only unethical but goes against this nation’s Constitution.  I believe that the Department of Jobs and Children had only good intentions when implementing this policy but had they weighed the negatives against the few positives, they would have seen that this policy isn’t any way a good idea.  There are some positives that can come from this policy, such as, removing children that are exposed to truly dangerous home conditions, but that isn’t what the Social Learning theory is concerned with.
English: Children & Family Services
English: Children & Family Services (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
With exposure to the negatives, the few positives, and some repercussions, a person could easily come to the conclusion that this policy isn’t in the best interest of Anytown.  With a clear understanding of the Social Learning theory, it can be said that the Department of Jobs and Children misinterpreted the theory.  It is fair to say that the policy needs to be reconsidered and that the Social Learning theory shouldn’t be used as the main argument for the policy.  Whether you are one of the people saying the hoorays or part of the group that was crying out in anger, faced with the problems this policy can make, I think we can all agree that this policy needs to be reevaluated.  

Schacter, Gilbert, & Wegner (2009). Psychology. New York, NY. Worth Publishers; p. 243-244
Siegel, L. J. (2007). Criminology: The Core (3rd Ed.). Belmont, Ca. Cengage Learning; p. 409-410
Weldon, C. (2001). Foster Care: A Psychological War Retrieved from: http://www4.samford.edu/schools/artsci/scs/weldon.html

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1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your article. I can only speak for myself and in my case, I grew up in a house of horror. My first suicide attempt visited me at the age of ten. I learned quickly that the juvenile justice system was a much safer environment than my home. As an adult, I brought that thinking with me and evolved into a bank robber/herion addict...just like my father. However today I'm 38 days out of federal prison. I have a job and I tutor 2nd graders. What I'm most proud of is that I'm also a father who is determined not to have my child follow in my footsteps. Needless to say, the environment in MY home is a healthy one with lots of love and support. I'm giving my child what I never had. Thank you.

    D'Angels Stefani


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