It’s wrong to bribe kids, right? When it comes to raising kids, we tend to draw everything we once knew for certain into question.
Tricking our kids into doing something they ought to do anyway, can skew their judgment further down the road. BUT, on the other hand, ensuring they do their homework, study for tests, get good grades and perform responsibilities feels necessary for them to grow into well-developed, mature adults.
In the grander scheme, doesn’t everyone get an education and become responsible in order to gain something? If we teach our children that education is the path to happiness, we’re partially suggesting that once one is accomplished, you will get the other. Yet bribery seems different. So is it wrong to bribe kids to study?
The case for bribery
There’s a fact about raising kids that is hard to ignore: It’s easier to raise kids who are attentive to their schoolwork and help around the house than it is to raise those who seem intent on ignoring their schoolwork, making up excuses, and not paying attention in class.
The temptation to convert your kids, whether they’re a passive or an active adversary, into avid readers, mathletes, and scientists through bribery is a powerful pull, and you’re not alone in feeling it. In one survey conducted by Great American Cookies, 94 percent of participating parents with children under four admitted to rewarding their children with candy for getting good behavior, including studying.
Bribes vary. They don’t just have to be financial or even material. You can bribe kids with the promise of their favorite meal for dinner or extra screen time. One popular promise parents might make to children is taking them to Disney World, or evenout for ice cream
Different age groups respond to these incentives differently. While younger toddlers and preteens might be more easily persuaded by small bribes like toys and treats, as children get older, they won’t find the same bribes appealing. Teenagers won’t settle for a few trivial presents or attentions; they’ll make bigger and bigger demands, like a car once they become of driving age. Worrisome for some parents, kids who get used to being bribed can grow into becoming manipulative and find a way to game the system.
Peace, but at what cost?
It’s not unusual to feel as though bribery is inherently an act of corruption and manipulation. You’re engaging in quid pro quo. With younger children, you could be establishing a pattern of misleading behaviors that eventually wear off. With older children, you’re blatantly showing that you, the authority figure, don’t have real power and need to resort to bargaining and compromise to.
The claim isn’t empty. Studies, including a meta-analysis of 128 studies from researchers at the University of Rochester show that kids who are rewarded for activities through extrinsic and tangible rewards have a detrimental impact on long-term successes.
Harvard economist Roland Fryer also conducted a randomized experiment with results suggesting that “the impact of financial incentives on student achievement is statistically zero,” so there’s reason to believe that your well-intention, corrupt practice might actually just be an inefficient waste of time.
Bribery, the seemingly small price we pay for peace in our households, has layers beyond the initial act. What values are we imparting onto our kids when we offer them money and toys and favors as a reward for them doing what’s best for them in the long-term? Are we cheating them? Is there a way to do both?
Bribery without the bribe
Parenting book after parenting book could answer those questions. At the end of the day, we all want children to develop a hunger to learn and grow on their own. Children are naturally curious and want to explore the world and what interests them. By indulging in this natural tendency, parents can shape that natural desire into good, positive behaviors.
If bribery seems like a reasonable path, how about we consider changing the way we bribe kids? Parenting is not only about protecting growing bodies, it’s about cultivating growing minds. Surround your children with learning materials and responsibilities disguised as rewards that can benefit them in the long run.
For example, when your teen is asking for a car, teach them the importance of financing, budgeting, and proper research. Bribe preteens and younger children with visits to education centers, like children’s museums, camps, and physical activities. Trade the toddler’s candies with unique healthy sweet fruits, like kiwis or fresh juice popsicles.
Although it may seem like giving into temptation and corrupting your kids, bribery does not have to lead to such negative impacts. Providing children with gifts and rewards can foster a healthy attitude about learning and responsibility. It can also create an opportunity to create a happier relationship with them. No matter your stance, just remember – your actions and attitudes determine the entire experience.