The following was submitted in response to a question posted by the In Theory section of the La Cañada Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader, respectively: Should kids be bribed with money in order to perform well? What, in your opinion, are the advantages and/or disadvantages of this strategy? Or do you side with the critics who say kids should not be rewarded for things they should be doing anyway?
There are few things that we humans know from birth. One is to cry and reach out when hungry. The other is …well, you know!
Everything else (including learning to honor mother and father) is the task of a lifetime. And the idea that kids shouldn’t be rewarded for things they should be doing anyway – doesn’t acknowledge that this is precisely how we humans learn.
(Even God is reported to have tried various techniques of punishment and reward to finally get us unruly children to learn His will. Given the state of the world and the diversity of religious traditions, it’s clear there is no cookie-cutter solution to human betterment.)
Babies wanting attention start out bribing and rewarding grownups with their irresistible cooing and gurgling. Over the course of many years grownups bribe and reward their children with everything from attention, food, toys, and TV/computer privileges – to the promise not to embarrass them in front of their friends at the mall!
Since society already over-emphasizes money and other material rewards, I’m in favor of trying to link early learning (wherever possible) with rewards of spiritual and emotional depth: empathy, compassion, generosity, etc.
Of course this means making a commitment to get creative.
How about encouraging programs that reward academic achievement indirectly – teaching children to seek rewards that benefit others? Along the lines of: for each book report you write two books are donated in your name to a school library in (insert town/country here).
It’s easy to imagine how that approach might be tied in with lessons about geography, economics, and politics and, more importantly, how it might build cross-cultural relationships.
But such an approach would require not only creativity. It would require truly believing in, anticipating, and nurturing the human capacity for and yearning for spiritual and emotional depth. At any age.
We sell ourselves and our children short when we reach for the quick-fix of the dollar.
The Rev. Stefanie Etzbach-Dale
Unitarian Universalist Church of Verdugo Hills, La Crescenta, CA