There has been a steady increase in the design and implementation of training programs that teach behavior-modification techniques to parents. This paper addresses the broad issue of ethical problems in behavior modification and specific problems in the area of parent training programs. The author has examined both parent training programs conducted by professionals and implemented by parents, and books on behavior modification written for parents to implement with their children. Four areas of concern are discussed. First, what constitutes an appropriate target for intervention and are there potential conflicts between parents' and children's rights? Many of the programs analyzed offered parents little guidance in selecting significant goals, and most selected goals focused on eliminating undesirable behaviors. Second, problems related to the nature of intervention are discussed – problems associated with both positive contingencies (how are reinforcers chosen and evaluated?) and with the sanctioned use of punishment. The third issue is that of conflicts between experimentation and therapeutic intervention. Conflicts between parents and researchers concerning the use of techniques (such as reversals, returning to baseline, and the triggering of undesirable behaviors) are analyzed in terms of ethical and methodological ramifications. A final issue concerns the level of training provided to parents who are instructed to design and implement behavior-modification programs with their children. How such training is given and evaluated is raised as an ethical concern. The paper concludes with a plea for consideration of ethical issues and places this discussion within a broader context of professional training.
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