Have you have a conversation about "these kids today" and how "ungrateful and unmotivated" they are?
Have you ever wondered where these kids learned it?
Reward systems are pretty widely used by parents and educators alike.
I see it in classrooms all the time. Well intentioned teachers use a token of some sort to
Educators do this because of "real world" applications. When I perform at work, I get paid.
The problem is that most reward systems work for kids who wouldn't need the system in the first place.
The "good" kids rack up points/stars/tickets/smiley faces and are able to "buy" pencils, sleepovers, and IPods.
Meanwhile, the "bad" kids lose their tickets/points/stars/smiley faces and as a result, feel angry, hurt, humiliated, and hopeless. And if they are in the hole, why not act out more since there's nothing to lose?
And this happens in the real world too.
The "good" hard workers get the "good" jobs with good pay. The "bad" workers don't. (Of course we won't let discussion about systemic injustices in poverty, education, etc., play into these conversations ...)
As a parent and an educator I have used reward systems sparingly, a few times. Mainly I used them for a brief period to encourage specific behavior. In the classroom, I used rewards to get through the last two weeks of school (because kids check out and "stop" school mentally by then). In my home, I used a reward system during potty training.
And that is it.
I do not want children, mine or anyone else's, to blindly "behave" in order to get or not get something (because I feel the same way about demerit systems as I do reward systems).
I don't want kids to clean their desks/lockers/rooms because they are going to get a pencil; I want them to do it because they were asked to do it--because it's the "right" thing to do.
Obedience is a high expectation and I think too often we sell our kids short by assuming they HAVE to have some sort of immediate, tangible reward in order to do what is right.
What I fear is that kids become so accustomed to getting something in return for good behavior that they stop doing things because it's the "right thing to do" and do it because they'll get something in return.
And then adults complain about a generation of entitled brats.
It is an inconvenient truth that reward systems have been the subject of much research and such research demonstrates that though reward systems can be temporarily effective, in the long run, such systems result in lowered intrinsic motivation (I'll plug one of my favorite books here: Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes. by Alfie Kohn).
A lot of people have had the experience of having done something and they loved it—until they started to get paid for doing it, after which they wouldn't dream of doing it again without getting paid. The phenomenon whereby extrinsic motivators cause intrinsic motivation to evaporate is not on the tips of our tongues, but it's not that far from consciousness, either. (click here to read this interview)You won't see charts or graphs at my house. You won't hear me bribing M.E. to clean her room with promises of a toy from the dollar store. You will hear expectations for her being spoken loudly and clearly. And you'll see me model it.
I want my children to understand that, socially, there are acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and actions. I want them to learn to do what is right for right's sake. Not because I gave them a gold sticker.
Reward systems? Not at my house.