Social Question

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

Is this "bribing" your children?

Asked by Aesthetic_Mess (7846 points ) July 3rd, 2012

I often have to babysit my sister’s two children. They generally misbehave and don’t respect me as much as other older family members.
They seem to only behave exceptionally well when she promises to give them something in return. For example, if they behave well today, they get to see Spiderman in theatres on Friday. If they don’t, she will put it off (but will still take them).
Is this bribing your children? And have you ever done this to your own kids? What do you think about this practice?

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32 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Terrible technique that breeds a most peculiar idea of what is socially acceptable. I would speculate that this odd concept of good parenting will make those kids anxious and irritable when they step out into the world and bump into the norms.

How old are they?

fremen_warrior's avatar

Watch this southpark episode – although it IS southpark, it does make a good point. Watch it in its entirety, hope it helps :-)

marinelife's avatar

I would say that good behavior should be the standard and the kids should be punished (by removing something they value) when they misbehave.

Judi's avatar

It’s not ideal, but parenting is messy and sometimes you will do things you never thought you would do when you were single and judging other peoples parenting. Sometimes you get so desperate you do what ever works. You probably won’t understand this until you’re a parent yourself.
Most of us have more than one “I never in a million years thought I would….. as a parent,” stories.

SuperMouse's avatar

I prefer the term “behavior contract”. When I do this I don’t limit it to a benefit, there is also a consequence for bad behavior.

tom_g's avatar

This is not how I choose to parent, but like @Judi said, occasionally you will do things that go against everything you believe just to get a moment’s peace. Parenting is hard work, and I have yet to meet a parent that has got this mastered. Maybe it’s not supposed to be.

Anyway, it reminds me of the chores situation. We know parents of young kids who pay an allowance to their kids for emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the kitchen floor, and doing general cleaning up of the toys. This doesn’t make any sense to me. My children are full members of this family. With membership comes work – like emptying the dishwasher, etc. This is not “extra” work that is to be rewarded with money. It’s just work that is required by all of us to make this whole family thing work.

But what do I know…

ucme's avatar

Lazy parenting, in both thought & deed. Similar to those parents who utilise the television as a substitute babysitter, plonk the kids in front of the telly, that’ll keep them quiet.
If regulated properly & doesn’t become the dominant factor, then like all things it’s what works best for any particular family.

bkcunningham's avatar

@fremen_warrior, I gave you a Great Answer for that.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I except good behavior. If that doesn’t happen, the plans we set up for the day do not. So, if the plan was to go see Spiderman and they didn’t behave, then we’re not going. Therefore, some of what I say may sound like “if you behave, we’ll go see Spiderman” but it is not bribing, it is explaining consequences.

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

@SuperMouse The thing with my sister is that if they misbehave, the only consequence was taking away their “reward.”

I agree with @marinelife. Our parents never promised us things or events for behaving well. That was expected. I always thought that by initiating “behavior contracts” it would just teach them to expect something every time they behave well. Shouldn’t it be taught that you should behave well without expecting something in return?

@gailcalled The boy is 7 and the girl 6.

SuperMouse's avatar

@Aesthetic_Mess I agree that kids should understand that good behavior is the norm and not something that happens only when promised a reward. I think @Judi and @tom_g have the most realistic perspective here. It is preferable to be the perfect parent all the time and not have to resort to these types of things, but sometimes it doesn’t quite workout. I do think that if this is the only tool a parent has in their toolbox, it is going to lead to trouble. I also think it is important to have a consequence as well as a reward when using a behavior contract.

digitalimpression's avatar

Discipline is important! And I’m not referring to the discipline in the kids themselves.. but in the parents! They should be consistent… In other words.. if the kids are bad, they don’t get to watch the movie.. period… unless they prove themselves in subsequent “tests”. As long as the kids associate a good behavior with a reward and a bad behavior with a negative reinforcement or a lack of reward. If they can clearly make that distinction, imho, then you’re good.

jca's avatar

I think with many parents, the kids are energetic and the parents are tired, and the kids wear the parents down. It’s easy to play “Monday Morning Quarterback” and say “parents should” and second-guess the parents, but when you’re in that situation, it may be a different story. I have a young child, and we’re not at the point yet where I may do what the OP’s family does, and I’m not saying I would never resort to it, not that I think it’s ideal, but never say never. If I were tired from working 40+ hours per week with an extra 10+ hour per week commute, who knows what I would do. I like to say I hope not, but who knows.

josie's avatar

Bad parenting is a sign of our times. Yours is a great example of it.

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

I think another thing is that the kids don’t learn from misbehaving. Since usually what my sister does is just deprive them of their reward, nothing was really lost.
There was just the possibility of seeing Spiderman. The Spiderman event could easily have been canceled by a family emergency or the car breaking down or some other unforeseen circumstance, and I think that’s how the children view it. I don’t really think (from the patterns I’ve seen from babysitting them) that they really know and see that they have misbehaved and that is why they are not getting a reward.

Because my parents never dealt with me this way, I haven’t really seen the long-term effects of this on children.
Have you? What were the children like when they grew up? What kind of effects do these one-sided contracts have?

Trillian's avatar

You can see the long-term effects everywhere you look. Adults who freak out if they have to wait too long in line anywhere, people who expect to be financially compensated for ignoring warning signs and then getting injured, complain at operating hours for businesses…
Pretty much anyone who continually expects that the world revolves around them. Their parents never taught them consequences, boundaries, and that everyone else is just as important as they are.
The parents then actually expect others to continue treating their kids like this and get angry when it doesn’t happen.

gailcalled's avatar

I have a god-daughter whom I observed being spoiled, bribed, cajoled, and deferred to from the time she was a toddler. Her parents used to ask her, as a three-year-old, what restaurant she wanted to have dinner in. I was horrified and tried to intervene, but to no avail.

Her parents made promises and broke them, made threats and didn’t carry them out, used sweets and desserts as bribes regularly and generally ruined this child’s life. She grew up with no coping skills.

Her father had connections in the university world and essentially persuaded a competitive college to accept this child. She flunked out shortly thereafter.

In her mid-twenties now,she is very overweight and still living at home, with a gloomy future.

wundayatta's avatar

If you behave, we will go.

If you don’t behave, we won’t go.

Is the first bribing, but not the second?

I prefer to think that we are teaching our kids that behavior has consequences. If you behave the way I want you to, then I will feel much better about doing things you want to do. That’s not bribing. That’s how humans work together. We are a community. Kids need to understand and behave like they are contributing to that community. How you say it doesn’t change the fact that if kids behave well, they are more likely to have their parents give them things they want, and if they don’t behave the way their parents want them to, they are less likely to get what they want from their parents.

LittleLemon's avatar

If I had paid attention in my BA 390 class, I could have spouted off the reward cycles that bosses use to entice their employees. What I do remember is the long-standing argument: Reward vs. Recognition. I think it’s important to have both, and to use them in congruence with all the different reinforcement schedules. Ahh! I knew if I rambled enough, I’d remember.

Broken down based on time:

Fixed Interval – A reward that’s given after a set period of time.
Variable Interval – A reward that’s given randomly with passage of time.

Broken down based on behavior:

Fixed Ratio – A reward that’s based on behaviors after a set period of time.
Variable Ratio – A reward that’s given randomly after exhibition of behaviors.

What I took from this was that when using all of these methods, the employee child no longer feels as if their feedback comes from a pre-processed place where they can cheat their way to rewards (at least not all the rewards). It’s more well-rounded and all-encompassing, such that they feel as if they’re being rewarded for being the best they can be and not just for their good behavior.

Of course, this is most likely exhausting to put into practice, but it’s a good framework to consider when rewarding people. If it works with hungover interns, I can’t see why it wouldn’t work with children.

Rarebear's avatar

It’s teaching them to misbehave.

Blondesjon's avatar

Good behavior should never be rewarded.

It should be required.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Yes, that’s bribing. That being said, even the very best of parents will occasionally resort to that method when they’re desperate. If it happens all the time, it’s irresponsible parenting. If it happens every great once in a while, it’s no big deal.

I pay my children for their report cards. But I don’t consider it a bribe, I consider it their paycheck. As a child, school is their job, so I pay them for that job. And that’s how I’ve described it to them. There’s a pay scale, so if they do well at their job, they get a bigger paycheck. If they do poorly at their job, they get a measly paycheck. My oldest turned around from a pretty much straight C student in 4th grade, to an A-B Honor Roll student all this last year of 5th grade. And she’s been wisely saving all her paychecks to buy something expensive. =0)

wundayatta's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate Do you think that paying your child caused her to get better grades? Do you think that if you stopped paying her, her grades would worsen? If, for some horrible reason, you could no longer afford to pay her for her grades, would she stop being on the honor roll?

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I’m not sure, but as of right now, I don’t mind employing that method. Like I said, I tell my kids this is their paycheck. They’ve both been good about saving their money for something special they want, and they’ve actually come close to spending it, then deciding, “No, I really want this other thing. So I’m going to keep my money for now.” By calling it a “paycheck” instead of a reward, and encouraging them to make their own decisions about what to do with said paycheck, they are apparently learning some valuable lessons about money management as well.

wundayatta's avatar

I think teaching money management to our children is a good thing. Alas, we have not yet given our kids savings accounts. But we have been discussing money, even if they don’t have any to play with.

YARNLADY's avatar

Since children aren’t born with the ability to recognize “good” behavior, it is necessary for parents to reinforce the desired behavior using various methods. After they are fully aware what is expected of them, around age 10, they should require less and less reinforcement (rewards).

bkcunningham's avatar

My 3 year old granddaughter is perfect.

disquisitive's avatar

It’s not bribing, it’s discipline. It’s always OK to say “if _______ , ________will happen.” The key is to stick to it every single time. Sometimes it’s a negative thing and sometimes a positive. If parents say “If” anything they must make the promised result happen. When parents consistently do this for positive things, it enforces the child trust that the negative situations will also happen “if.” Remember, discipline means teaching. This is an effective way to do that.

fluthernutter's avatar

@gailcalled Is it really that horrible to ask a three-year-old where she wants to eat? Kids shouldn’t be calling the shots, but they also have their own opinion on things.

At what age do you think their opinion should matter?

Judi's avatar

I think at three you can give two (maybe 3) choices, but it is hard enough for adults to agree on where to eat. Why exposé a 3 year old to that stress!

keobooks's avatar

I don’t think kids should be bribed with material goods for good behavior on a regular basis. I think they should be given lots of verbal praise, affection and attention for good behavior. Kids deep down really want attention from their parents and other and they will settle for presents if they can’t get it.

I think one reason kids chronically misbehave is that they get attention when they do it. And any attention – even scolding and yelling – is better than none at all. I don’t think kids who need to be bribed to behave are actually very happy when it all comes down.

jca's avatar

My mom told me she saw on Dr. Phil that his theory is that you should threaten to withhold things that kids like, for not behaving well. You have to be prepared to stick to it, according to him.

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