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Driving while intoxicated persists to be a major problem amongst teenage drivers. Although there are many precautions taken in order to prevent this type of activity, whether by the school, media or parents’, teens proceed to place themselves into these very high risk situations. These persistent behaviors drive us to look further into why teens partake in this type of activity or better yet what and who is influencing this age group. As asked by the principal I will attempt to explain this behavior using several theories of Human Development, including the theory of operant conditioning, the social learning theory and Erikson’s psychosocial theory.
Social Learning Theory
This theory established by Albert Bandura, insists that by observing others, people acquire knowledge in areas such as rules, skills, strategies, beliefs, and attitudes while providing a sense of self-efficacy. Social learning theory renamed ‘social cognitive learning theory’ highlights the idea that much of human learning occurs in a social environment. According to Bandura (1971), “…new patterns of behavior can be acquired through direct experience or by observing the behavior of others” (p.
3). To apply this theory to the problematic issue of drunk driving is very simple because through recent history it is shown that our surroundings and the crowd kept have a huge impact on behavior. Although it is also suggested by Kail and Cavanaugh (2010) that all behavior is not imitated but that, “People are more likely to imitate if the person they see is popular, smart, or talented” (p.14).
So this would be a possible explanation as to why many students at the high school are participating in such behavior.
If the students at the high school are encountering such things as drunk driving especially in the presents of those who are looked up to the possibility of imitation is much higher. And the idea of self-efficacy through experience is a factor of the social cognitive learning theory that contributes to ideas as to explain this behavior. Self-efficacy is defined as “people’s beliefs about their own abilities and talents,” according to Kail and Cavanaugh (p. 14). The bottom line is that many of the activities people around you are taking part in you are just as likely to take part in as well. if the behavior of those who stand out in the population is the most observed then what can we do to sort of mediate certain behavior? Well, it’s hard to say because once behaviors have become habitual they are hard to let go of. Operant Conditioning
According to Kail and Cavanaugh the theory established by Skinner known as operant conditioning is a “learning paradigm in which the consequences of a behavior determine whether a behavior is repeated in the future” (p. 13). This theory to an extent, parallels the previous theory of operant conditioning but is also important in trying to understand why one makes the decisions they do as well as how often they partake in certain behaviors. Through his theory Skinner displayed that there are two types of consequences, reinforcement and punishment, in which one increases the chances of repeated behavior and the other vice versa. Reinforcement is the component that increases the likeliness of repeated behavior and includes two divisions, negative and positive.
Negative reinforcement is that in which a person’s behavior is rewarded by the elimination of things that do not please them whereas with positive reinforcement rewards such as money or simply praise from others is received. The consequence of punishment, on the other hand, decreases the chances of someone repeating a certain behavior because it’ll be unfavorable in the eyes of others. So to apply this operant conditioning theory to the issue of teen drunk driving is not complicated at all. This type of behavior will remain popular because praise from peers is a very common reinforcement, especially if someone makes it to their destination safely without any harm done to themselves or those who are passengers; once someone has completed this very unintelligent task once, it is very likely that the behavior will once again be something to partake in in the future. Psychosocial Theory
Erikson has a unique approach to his theory which consists of eight stages that illustrate the challenges that are faced over the sequence of the life cycle. In his psychosocial theory, “Erikson proposed that personality development is determined by the interaction of an internal maturational plan and external societal demands” (Kail and Cavanaugh, p. 12). Although there are eight stages mentioned in Erikson’s theory, the psychosocial stage that I feel is most related to the problem at hand is, identity vs. identity confusion which occurs during adolescence (ages 12 through 20). At this point in life individuals are challenged with developing a sense of who they truly are as well as with whom they should associate themselves with.
At this stage in life you are exposed to so many different people in settings such as the high school, who partake in a range of different activities and it is very easy for teens to become susceptible to partaking in activities that could possibly be dangerous. Truthfully there is no way to completely bring activities such as drunk driving to a halt but putting forth an effort to persuade as many teens possible that this behavior is not acceptable would help this issue drastically. Conclusion
Out of all three theories, Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory and Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory, the theory that I believe does the best job of helping us understand why drunk driving occurs is Erikson’s theory. I say this because it’s the theory that relates to the age group directly related to the issue at hand. High school students are usually in the range of 15 and 18 years of age, the ages when most minors begin to receive their permits and licenses as well as begin to drive without any supervision. With this much responsibility teens sometimes venture off onto dangerous paths and need someone in addition to their parents to mentor and talk to them to make a change in behavior.
As a principal along with your staff I encourage you all to get together and put on a demonstration that shows the consequence of drunk driving. If possible you could get the community involved along with neighborhood police and firefighters. Gather your student population and show visuals of what could happen if they indulge in a behavior such as this. Visuals are a great persuasive measure and can quickly scare teens straight. According to Crandell (2009), “Erikson concluded that the personality continues to develop over the entire life span.” (Crandell, Zanden & Crandell). So the quicker we can steer teens in the right direction the better chance they’ll have at a better future development.
Kail, R. V., Cavanaugh J. C. , (2013). Human Development: A Life-Span View. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Crandell, T. L., Zanden, J. W. V., & Crandell, C. H. (2009). Human Development. New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Bandura, Albert, (1971). Social Learning Theory. New York City, NY: General Learning Corporation
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