Tough Being a Parent

‘Command and control’ parenting throught the use of extrinsic motivation (sticks and carrots) is explored in this editorial debate from today’s New York Times;

New York Times – Room for Debate – Should You Bribe Your Kids?

Whilst it’s quite a light-hearted article and somewhat amusing I was left with two thoughts that meant i wasn’t wholly comfortable with the viewpoint of either of the writers.

Firstly, the article carries no acknowledgement of the needs, clearly identified through research with both children and adults, for intrinsic motivation to drive success in life. If every child is growing up with ‘bribing’ parents, should we be surprised if we finish up with an adult population that looks for instant and immediate material gratification as a necessary quid pro quo for every piece of effort extended? Whilst, as one of the writers acknowledges, that might solve her short term issues and give her an easier life, is she short changing her children by failing to invest adequate effort in the long term task of developing internal motivation to do what is right and necessary because one can make the mental connections between ‘doing what it takes now’ and ‘having what i want later’?

My second concern is that if parents are engaging in ‘mass bribery’ to weather the daily challenges of parenting – where does that leave the other people who play an important part in the lives of those children – the educators? If a child is in the habit of linking agreement to do something with some form of immediate gratification in the form of a bribe, then how are educators supposed to effectively fulfil their roles? They don’t necessarily have a pool of resources to keep handing out to children in return for them simply doing what they’re supposed to do – or worse, for not making our lives too difficult!

So, what do you think? Am I being too idealistic? Do you feel that bribing is an OK short-term fix for an easy life that doesn’t really do any harm? I’m really keen to hear people’s views on this. I may have mine, but after reading this article i fear i might be in a small (and dwindling) minority!

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One Response

  1. Why do we do the things we do? What is it that drives our behaviors? Psychologists have proposed a number of different ways of thinking about motivation. David G. Meyers in Psychology: Eighth Edition in Modules explains -“A person’s interest often survives when a reward is used neither to bribe nor to control but to signal a job well done, as in a “most improved player” award. If a reward boosts your feeling of competence after doing good work, your enjoyment of the task may increase. Reward, rightly administered, can motivate high performance and creativity. And extrinsic rewards (such as scholarships, admissions, and jobs that often follow good grades) are here to stay”.
    As always there are two sides to a coin. A number of studies have demonstrated that offering excessive external rewards for an already internally rewarding behavior can actually lead to a reduction in intrinsic motivation. In one study, for example, children who were rewarded for playing with a toy they had already expressed interest in playing with became less interested in the item after being externally rewarded.
    Seldom do we encourage children to engage in a behavior because it is personally rewarding. However, external rewards can induce interest and participation in something the individual had no initial interest in. Extrinsic rewards can be used to motivate people to acquire new skills or knowledge. It is only human to expect extrinsic motivation to keep one going on the right path. Everyone needs a boost once in a while be it children or adults. Researchers have found that offering positive praise and feedback when people do something better in comparison to others can actually improve intrinsic motivation.
    Personally I feel extrinsic and intrinsic motivation both can play an important role in learning settings, provided we as educators and as parents engage children in meaningful tasks.

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