When my kids were little – or littler anyway – I often resorted to bribery to help me parent. I offered them lollipops for good behavior while waiting at the bank. I told them they could get a cookie from the bakery if they survived the grocery shopping trip without incident. I told them if they finished cleaning their room, we’d watch a movie that night. I did it regularly. And without apology.
But the older our kids get, the more the bribery lines get blurred. Parents start offering their kids a dollar for every A on their report cards. They tell them they’ll get ice cream if they hit a double at the baseball game or score a goal in soccer. They tell them they’ll buy them a new phone if they earn a coveted spot on the honor roll.
And well, this is where I part ways with my fellow bribing parents. Because there is no way I’m paying my kids for good grades or giving them treats for athletic feats.
No way. No how. And here’s why.
First, they don’t work. Experts say that even if you do see an improvement at first, they generally don’t last. In fact, several studies have shown that, over time, offering rewards for results actually reduces enthusiasm for the task, which is pretty much the opposite of most parents’ intentions.
See, there’s this little thing called intrinsic motivation, which is really just a fancy way of saying that, as our kids get older, personal satisfaction is a greater motivator than prizes.
All these bribes and rewards just breed a sense of entitlement, and quite frankly, my kids get enough goodies as it is – just for being the kind and amazing people that they are.
“Rewards also foster a ‘what’s in it for me?’ attitude,” wrote Amy McCready in the New York Times. “If the reward is money for good grades, it sends the message that the reason to work hard in school is to enrich your wallet rather than your mind. It also puts the burden on parents to continue dangling carrots in front of their children as motivation.”
Also I believe in rewarding effort, not necessarily results. One kid might skate through classes with all A’s while another child might struggle to make C’s. What does it say if we reward only the A student? My son is one of the focused and determined players on his team, but is he a slugger or a lights-out pitcher? No, he is not. Does that mean his effort isn’t worthy of an ice cream now and then?
While I’m all for celebrating successes and accomplishments, what we define as a “success” or “accomplishment” is completely open to interpretation. Personally, I would much rather celebrate those times when my kid helps out a classmate or shows some extraordinary kindness. These are the things that matter, after all – not their grades or their stat sheets at the end of the season.
The other day another parent told me about a time my son had been kind to her child and I tell you what — my heart swelled with a pride I can’t quite describe. It filled me up in a way that no grade on a report card or a big hit in a baseball game could ever do. And later that night when I told my son that he was a good friend, the look on his face told me that it made him feel the same way too. No treat in the world can top that feeling.