Bribes, Rewards, and Extreme Parenting Techniques
Do you use a motivation, chore, or behavior chart with your kids? Are your rewards things such as extra computer time, a pack of gum, or maybe nothing but the affirmation that the chores were completed? In stark contrast to what many families attach to their behavior charts as rewards or motivation, a Las Vegas family offers large amounts of cash and extravagant gifts. A recent airing of 20/20 highlighted “xtreme parenting” and the lengths that some parents will go to for and with their children when it comes to things like grades.
Does Paying for Grades Pay?
Barbara Walters posed the question: Can you buy yourself the perfect child? The mother who was interviewed, Lana, claims that she has “proven, verifiable” proof that giving children luxurious gifts in exchange for good grades works. Like many typical parents Lana uses a Reward Board on which she tracks her children’s academic progress. Certain grades are worth certain amounts of star stickers (but an “F” will get you a loss of 20 stars). In one column of the chart are things for which her daughter, a high school student, hopes to exchange for these stars – among them designer clothes and a trip to Morocco. These rewards, however, are far from typical.
Researchers who have investigated the effectiveness of rewards, motivators, and paying for grades often refer to the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.
- Intrinsic Motivation – The motivation comes from within, holds personal value regardless of outside influences (i.e. a child learns more about insects because he is interested in them). The rewards are actually in doing the action or activity.
- Extrinsic Motivation – There is an outside influence, such as praise, rewards, bribes, or other offerings in return for specific behaviors (i.e. paying children for grades). There is an expected, often unrelated, payoff.
- Overjustification Effect – There is also a third issue related to motivation known as the overjustification effect. This effect is characterized by offering rewards for something that children are already interested in or motivated to do. Children will sometimes actually turn away from the activities for which they are offered rewards because they surmise that if it required rewards, it must be bad.
Vocal opponents to rewards, such as Alfie Kohn, argue vehemently that manipulating children through rewards might get short-term results, but will fail and potentially do lasting harm in the long-run. Other researchers and educators argue that the proper balance of motivators and rewards help to get struggling children over the hurdles and onto the right track.
Balance of Motivation and Rewards
An article written by Martin Covington (Berkeley, CA), Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation in Schools: A Reconciliation, discusses the various research findings pertaining to motivational factors and education. His findings determine that there is not necessarily a bad and good side on the issue, but a balance that needs to be struck between the two. He writes that students are more likely to actually value the things about which they are learning (and enjoy doing it), when:
- They are reaching their grade goals (which doesn’t necessarily mean straight A’s for everyone).
- The central reasons for learning are proactive and task-oriented, as opposed to simply trying to avoid failure.
- They are interested in the topics being studied.
These results do show a mix of extrinsic and intrinsic motivating factors. Convington’s research shows that reward and chore charts can work effectively for some children, but not in all situations. But what about that family in Las Vegas spending millions on their children’s rewards? The mother admits that for her it is more about the carrot than the stick. She feels strongly that desire is the key to motivation, and because her children desire extravagant gifts that they will be highly motivated to succeed. In the video clip she says that her lavish gifts are in exchange for good grades, and are “validating more of what I would like to get.” She even framed a bad report card in what she claims is an ugly frame to remind her daughter of what isn’t desired. Those statements sum up her approach – it is about what she wants to get, and she has found a tool to get her results.
Only time will tell if this focus on extrinsic motivators will actually prove to help her raise fulfilled, healthy, productive, and self-reliant children. For me and mine, we’ll be sticking to the bedtime routine charts that don’t have any rewards attached (except for peaceful bedtimes), and a reading wall where my reluctant reader can earn new comic books.