Bribery Is A Parenting Tool I Can't Live Without

by Dana Hinders
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I never spank my son. I seldom even raise my voice when I’m around him. Is he a perfect angel? Am I a perfect mother? Absolutely not.

The secret to my stress-free household is bribery. I realize the infamous Dr. Spock frowns on this, but I think you’re missing out if bribery isn’t a crucial part of your parenting toolbox. Spanking takes way too much effort, plus you risk getting labeled as a borderline abusive nut job. Yelling loses its effectiveness every time you do it, forcing you to scream louder and louder until you end up with laryngitis. Bribery gets shit done.

My son has been obsessed with video games since he was 6 and started spending hours watching his father play at night. Now that he’s 11, he has his own Xbox One, an Xbox Live Gold membership, a headset, and a wide selection of titles to play—including many that aren’t even close to being age-appropriate in the traditional sense. I didn’t even have a TV in my room until I was almost out of high school, but his gaming gear makes him the envy of his friends.

I used to worry we were spoiling him with excessive amounts of screen time until I discovered video games are his currency. There’s no need to spank or yell when I have the ultimate behavior modification tool at my disposal. (We’re far from rich, but having that power is worth every last cent we’ve spent on his hobby.)

My system is simple: Video games are a privilege that my son has been repeatedly told he should be thankful to have. I’m not a gamer myself, but I agree to support his love for the Xbox as long as he shows me that he’s worthy of the indulgence. Our number one household rule is that “fun” things are reserved for those who are responsible and well-behaved. Nobody is entitled to anything.

Bad behavior results in a rapid loss of gaming privileges. If he doesn’t do his homework or skips band practice, he loses the ability to play Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. If he backtalks when I ask him for help with the laundry or behaves rudely when we’re out in public, I take away his headset so he can’t chat with his online teammates while playing Minecraft. If he’s tardy to school, I make sure he can’t log in during the time he needs to be online to get his Warframe daily reward.

Good behavior earns extra gaming perks. If he aces an important test at school, I let him get the super amazing new Minecraft skin he’s been eyeing for weeks. If he helps babysit his younger cousins without complaining, he earns the right to stay up an extra hour playing his favorite game while indulging in the junk food snack of his choice. If there’s a new game coming out that he wants, I’ll pay him to help with chores around the house until he’s earned enough cash to snag that coveted prize.

If you’re still not convinced that bribery is the way to go, think back to potty training. How did you convince your child to use the toilet instead of pissing in his pants? I’m willing to bet sticker charts, candy, or the promise of getting to watch a favorite TV show played into your plan.

Your child may be older and the bribes may be more expensive, but the principle is the same. Find that one thing your child loves, whether it’s video games, Legos, or hogging the biggest TV in the house to watch their favorite football team. Once you figure out what that is, use it to your advantage for as long as humanly possible. It’s the easiest way to get through this parenting gig with your sanity intact.