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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