Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bribe your kid to succeed?

I want to preface this post with the fact that I am not a mother. I know moms get upset sometimes when a childless person like myself wonders about why parents do things, and offer up my own, different ideas. I am sensitive to this fact, and I apologize if what you read here ever offends you. Also, this is a pretty long rant. Please forgive me.

I recently saw Freakonomics after hearing a lot of hype and a lot of positive praise. I've got to tell you, I've seen better documentaries. It wasn't terrible, but I'm a little disappointed I spent so much time watching it. It doesn't explore the "hidden side of everything," as it claimed, but then who would realistically expect something that grandiose from a simple documentary? It touches on a few interesting things, but I think this would all serve better as a kind of series than one film.

What particularly frustrated me, though, was a segment in the movie that dealt with the question of whether or not a ninth grader could be bribed in cash to simply pass all their courses.

First of all, what the hell. I had to ask myself whether or not this was actually a problem! I wasn't a stellar high school student by any means, but If I recall my year as a high school freshman accurately, it involved reading A Tale of Two Cities and Shakespeare (among other things), geometry, phys ed, biology, and world civilizations  (to cover the core subjects, anyways. I took 2 language classes on top of the cores in my freshman year). Nothing in these subjects were astoundingly hard or difficult to master, unlike calculus or organic chemistry which come later. You just need to deal with it and get through it.

My initial thought was immediately put to rest once I saw a shot of children walking around in hallways with cell phones in-hand, texting, while zombie-walking down a crowded hallway. This, my friends, is one of my absolute pet peeves: children, in school, with cell phones. WHO thought this was a good idea?! Why does a 13 year old need a cell phone? Better yet, why is it with them in school??

I should warn you. I'm going to spoil this segment from the movie for you, so if you don't want to know what happens, don't read on.

Okay. Turns out ninth graders can't be bribed to succeed. Who would have guessed? Well, I did. And I bet you did, too. But these economists in the movie? They didn't. How they set it up was if a student was able to make grades all above C in one month's worth of classes, they would score $50 cash. If they could maintain only 1 unexcused absence and C+ and one other minor condition, they get entered into a monthly drawing to win $500 cash (complete with giant check), a ride home in a tricked-out stretch Hummer limo, and some other ridiculous things. This alone made my stomach queasy. It made me wonder what we're teaching our children with this shit, but that's a whole different can of worms.

I'm not an economist. I'm not a mother. I'm not a shrink. But it stands to reason that some kids in their first year of high school who're failing some of the easiest tasks they'll ever face in this cruel world have more to encourage them into learning material than a few bucks in cash. They have totally different priorities. Adults are looking at the problems of a teenager and are trying to solve them with adult solutions. And that's the problem, as far as I can see it.

Maybe when they've failed out and are scrounging for a job that doesn't adequately pay just to make the rent, the $50 will be a little more enticing. But until they get real world experience with real world financial dilemmas, they won't have a clue. $50 is just a luxury. They don't need it. It's nice to have, sure. But parents cover their needs up and beyond (cell phones, ugh).

How do you solve the problem, then? Well, I'm not sure. If I had the complete solution, I'd be a millionaire. Also, a fantastic mother. I'm sure the answer is a little more subtle than a Hummer limo and a jumbo check, though.


sprout said...

Interesting... I will comment on two things.

1. I don't look at it as 'bribing' a kid to succeed. Maybe what they did was bribery, but personally (as a fellow non-parent), I don't see a problem with rewarding kids for doing an exceptional job for one reason: The same thing happens in the real world.

If you go above and beyond and kick ass at your job, you get rewarded. If you're a baseline employee and do an adequate job, you'll be treated as such, and same goes for if you do a poor job and get fired. I think outright TELLING a child that they'll be rewarded if they do a good job is counter-intuitive, but if they do a good job on their own and you reward them, I don't see too much harm in that. Again, I'm a non-parent with no desire to procreate anytime soon, so I could be completely full of shit, but I was once a kid, and this sort of thing would have worked wonders on me.

2. I also don't have a problem with kids having cell phones at that age. My girlfriend is insane about this. She doesn't want her kids having cell phones until they're old enough to afford their own and pay their own way.

I dunno, as far as I'm concerned, having a cell phone is becoming more and more commonplace, and is just the way the world is these days. I'd feel lost without a cell phone, and I imagine that when I do have kids many years from now, they're going to be even MORE common.

Now, that's not to say I think it's cool for these kids to stay on them all day and be distracted from their schoolwork, but I think it's important for a kid to have access to a phone to call home.

Sassafrass said...

Dave! I love that you commented! I love that you oppose me, too! It's nice to not always agree~

Rewarding a kid for a job well-done is awesome. I believe in positive reinforcement 100%. Just want to make that clear before I get shit for not backing such a great concept.

Getting grades above C every month? That's not a job well-done. That's a job satisfactorily done, and that doesn't cut it all the time in the real world. Especially if you're paying very, very handsomely!

I know my father bribed me to do well on my report card, and it worked until I got into high school and found other things that were more important than a few bucks for an A. This is where the divide comes, I think.

RE: Cell phones
I know you have one of those fancy phones that does pretty much everything ever, which I doubt I will ever even be able to OPERATE, but that's something I don't think children should be distracted by in an educational place.

I can think of no reason a child would need a cell phone apart from needing a ride home from an extracurricular activity. I'm with the girlfriend - until you can pay for the cell phone yourself, you don't get one.

I'd go one step further and suggest that the cell phone, internet, junk foods, and outings could be used for positive reinforcement in lieu of cash. Honestly, I just don't see kids valuing cash as much as you or I would in the real world. They have no need for it. But they do have a need to fit in with their peers, which sends me back to my cell phone positive reinforcement point.

Did you see Freakonomics? Did you like it??

sprout said...

I never saw freakonomics, but I'd be interested to see it now!

Yeah getting a C average is hardly worth rewarding. If my kid got straight As all the time and was totally into furthering himself and being a good person in general, I would reward him for that.

One of the coolest things my folks ever did for me was help me get my first computer. I took the initiative and started working at Market Basket over the summer of 2000 so I could afford my very own iMac. When summer ended, they surprised me by telling me they were going to match what I earned, and I was able to afford the computer. That's the sort of thing that I think was worthy of a reward. Showing initiative, doing something good, working hard, and bettering yourself.

As for the cell phone thing... I guess we'll have to agree to disagree haha. I definitely think it's weird that kids have the same access to all this technology that we do, but it's useless to resist it, I think. Technology is moving so fast it's impossible to keep up with. Communications technology is evolving at an even faster pace, and I feel like by the time I have kids, landline phones are going to be a thing of the past. Hell, they're ALREADY a thing of the past, but people still use them all the same.

Point is, kids need a way to communicate. I don't see why we should take away their ability to stay in touch with their parents and each other on a far easier basis than when WE were kids. There are limits, obviously, and I think it's important to set limits, but straight-up refusing to give them a cell phone would be crazy, I think.

Here's a question - How is giving a child a cell phone any crazier than giving him an Xbox? Ready, GO!

Sassafrass said...

LAWL - if it was up to me, my kids wouldn't get XBOXes at all. Or television. You realize that with Chris being a parent too, I'll never win that battle. So I'll just have to compromise within reason, I guess.

I was actually going to write about the video games in this post too since it was implied that it contributed to the failure to bribe kids into doing well in school. (Watch the doc, you'll see what I mean!) I thought it was already too long, and no one wants to read about my stupid opinions on technology.

By the way, it's friggin' AWESOME that your parents surprised you and match what you saved in the summer of 2000. How old were you then?? I think that's one of the best things a parent can do for their kid! The kid doesn't EXPECT that kind of reward, so it makes it so mint when they get it! Great, great idea!

sprout said...

I was the tender age of 15 when they did that for me!

ImplausibleYarn said...

I haven't seen the movie yet but I have read the book and I loved it. It made me think about things in a new way. I agree with you on a few points. Mainly on cell phones. I don't see why anybody needs them all day in school.

Nikki 'mesmeric' said...

I haven't watched this movie, hadn't even heard of it to tell you the truth, but I am a parent!

I agree with you though, a child is not going to work harder for something that means little if they have it or not. They have the cell phone, and other things so what is fifty dollar?

That is why my kids have to earn video game time, tv time, and computer time through chores or school work. (Some kids aren't in school). You'd be amazed at the results I get, they actually value the games and tv so they make sure they do the work. If they don't they don't get those things. I provide them food and clothes and shelter. Everything else is a bonus, that they have to work for.

Sassafrass said...

Mes! I'm so happy to see you stop by!

It sounds like your boys are doing wonderful. I hope you are too!

yumi said...

Yeah, I'm coming from a crazy Asian parenting background where my parents scolded me and told me where the other 5% was on a test score I came home with 95%. My sister though, did poorly in school (it's a miracle she graduated high school!) and still, she got pretty much every game and toy she'd ever wanted without a reward system being existed, but she was rewarded for every mediocrity. I, on the other hand, was not offered a reward system but only harsh words and brash comments if I did less than excellent.

RE: cell phones. I agree with Sass. And furthermore, parents who need to give their child a leash so they can finally find where there kids are, are simply lazy. Yeah, it's nice to have for emergency sakes, but if you do parenting well, your kids should know better than to be hanging out with the wrong group at the wrong time or know when to be where to be picked up as pre-designated/arranged.

I bet you the parent-kid relationship that's tied with a cell phone have barely any conversation over the dinner table at all. I bet they eat their microwaved dinners in silence while watching the television. Or worse, don't eat together at all.

It's like those parents you see in mini-vans that have the TV on in the car while the family is out Christmas-light viewing. Isn't it SAD these parents can't keep their kids under control and get them to shut up and enjoy the lights that they HAVE to resort to appeasing them with silly entertainment?

Jorge Ariel Valentine said...

I think it's nice that you comment an opposing view to both the documentary and the premise; it offers space to consider what then is the main motivator for kids to improve their school work.

As an educator and school administrator this is my main concern: where then does the motivation lay? And it's just what the documentary portrays.

Working daily with 9th graders you wonder what is going on in their heads and, just as you point out, it's not the money; it's self identity and it is... brace yourself... parents! Yes! Kids want their parents to be involved in everything they do, but not too involved; so it boils down to freedom with love.

I see the documentary and book as a thinking tank or a spark for ideas for not everything that shines is gold, and not all everything that claims to be good science always is.