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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pay for it - Why is bribery a bad word?

Parents, I would like to ask for a little self-honesty here.  You do not have to reply to this article, just be true to yourself. If you were independently wealthy and had the means to live whatever life you wish, would you still get up this morning and head off to your current job?  I am guessing most of you would not. Fortunately I do not have to guess.  Forbes has run a survey on work satisfaction every year since 1987.  2014 results indicate that more than half of us (52.3%) are unhappy with our jobs.

So why do we still drag ourselves out of bed 5 days a week (when it is cold and dark outside) and brave the long, crowded commute to spend 8+ hours doing something that does not excite us? The short answer is money. The long answer is because we have responsibilities like rent, feeding our kids, tuition, saving for retirement (hoping it comes eventually), paying for our annual vacation to Disneyland, etc...  which all requires money.

Now if 52.3% of us do not want to do something hard (like work) without getting paid, is it fair to expect our kids to do the things they dislike without some reward as well?  [In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that the little jury inside my head is still out on this particular topic which is why I writing through my thoughts here hoping to gain some clarity.]

WebMD.com has an article that is quite openly against bribing our kids.  Specifically, they talk about not bribing children to behave.  If children develop an understanding that they only have to act appropriately if they are paid to do so then they will not learn the intrinsic value of good behavior.  This leads to a sense of entitlement and a lack of respect and personal responsibility.  These are strong arguments and a sense of entitlement is damaging to our kids career prospects.  I have met many students with the attitude that they will start learning and preparing for the job they want AFTER the company hires them and starts paying them a salary. "Why should I waste my time learning JAVA or C++ now? After Google hires me as a programmer I can pick it up quickly."

The same article makes a distinction I don't entirely agree with; that bribes and rewards are different things.  Bribery being a payment to stop bad behaviour and a reward offered after something good.  While I get it, I prefer to think of it in simpler terms.  Payment for services rendered (rewards, bribes, whatever).  Is it OK or not?  When we start approaching it this way and dispense with the term differences we can focus on which "services" are appropriate to pay our kids for.

I tend to agree that paying our kids to stop behaving poorly is likely to result in a reinforcement of whatever that negative activity was.  "Here is a lollipop so please stop whining." Is easily understood by kids of all ages to mean that whenever they want another lollipop they just need to start whining again.  Where I think there is room for payment (money, candy, etc.) is when encouraging our kids to make an effort towards something that will provide a future benefit to them.  Amy Chua of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother infamy, says that one of the worst things we can do is let our kids give up.  She also states that nothing is fun until you get good at it.  In her case she is talking about the hours and hours of painful piano and violin practice for her daughters. Encouraging our kids to put in the time and energy to get through all those hours of (insert difficult thing here; piano, homework, Japanese language) will lead to two positive results.  First, they will be able to play piano well or speak Japanese fluently or get all As on their report card.  These goals will not seem like much to our kids when they would prefer to be playing video games or hanging out with their friends.  They won't recognize the value of the result until they get there.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for the future, they will have achieved something impressive through their own efforts. Confidence is built through such achievements and if we can encourage our kids along the way with the occasional and timely "bribe", then why not?

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