Sticker Charts Are A Bad Idea Now, Because Of Course They Are

by Maria Guido
Originally Published: 

Sticker charts called “powerful psychological tools” in recent parenting article

In this week’s installment of “literally everything you do will ruin your child,” The Atlantic explores the role of sticker charts in modern parenting. Wait, you just thought it was a cute way to reward your kid for listening? Wrong. The charts work too well, according to this parenting advice du jour.

Sticker charts are “powerful psychological tools” that will ultimately destroy your child’s relationship with you and anyone they ever meet in the future. Because when you reward a child, they will just start to expect rewards for everything. Or something.

“Advocates of sticker charts often neglect to mention their potential hazards, leaving parents surprised when the method backfires. Not surprisingly, I frequently hear complaints from parents about sticker charts gone awry,” writes Erica Reischer, the clinical psychologist who wrote the article Against The Sticker Chart. “One mother who was initially pleased with the results of her sticker-chart system said that when she asked her 8-year-old son to stop what he was doing and help his younger brother clean up a spill, he responded: ‘What will you give me?'”

And? That’s where you as a parent step in and say, “dinner.” Or “a roof over your head.” Or “clothing.” Or “Go help your brother now, you little shit.”

Reischer recounts another “struggle” brought to her attention in one of her parenting classes. “We told our daughter that she could earn extra points toward her goal of getting a new phone if she would help us clean the kitchen after dinner, but she just said, ‘No, thanks.’ Now what?'” the parents asked.

Now what? Seriously? Tell her she lost her chance at free crap and she needs to get up and do the dishes, now.

Am I conscious? Are these real questions?

Look, I’m not saying that parenting is easy. It’s not. I have a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old and they’re already defying me constantly. I’m just saying that maybe parenting isn’t some giant puzzle we all need to unlock in order to produce the perfectly adjusted specimen. Maybe no one is meant to be perfectly adjusted — has anyone even considered that? Maybe kids just sometimes need to be told to do it now, you little asshole because that’s how the real world works.

“Many of these parents who began a reward system with the worthy goal of making family routines easier became so pleased with the outcome that they kept adding more items to the sticker chart,” Reischer writes. “I like to call this phenomenon, in which reward systems become pervasive in family life, a ‘reward economy.’ In reward economies, kids learn to trade desirable behavior for a reward… Studies have shown that offering children tangible rewards in exchange for caring behavior may diminish future helpful behavior and can erode children’s innate tendency to help others.”

Oh, boy. We all work in a “reward economy.” I perform well at work, I get a raise. That’s how the world works. Whats wrong with preparing our kids for it?

But the biggest point is, what’s wrong with doing something simply because it makes our lives as parents easier? This idea that every, little thing we do is going to destroy our kids is absurd. It’s overkill.

Here’s my non-scientific hypothesis: our parents didn’t do any of this shit. I was a child of the seventies: there was no over-analyzing of parental behavior. There was no analyzing, period. And maybe some of that was bad. Maybe some of us felt slightly neglected. So we all became parents and we swung the pendulum way in the other batshit direction. We’ve actually convinced ourselves that benign decisions like buying a few stickers can damage our kids. Because we’re overanalyzing every, damn thing we do in the effort to parent well.

If you’re spending time reading articles about parenting, you’re probably good. You’re effectively putting more energy into analyzing parenting than your parents ever did.

Buy a few stickers and put your feet up. And stop listening to all of this stupid advice.

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