Should Parents Be Bribing Their Kids?

By Amelie S.

Many parents bribe their kids thinking they are going to learn how to behave because of the money, but these parents do not know how it later affects their kids in the real world. Many parents do not know that the behavior is temporary, and may even cause problems later on in their child’s life. Parents should not pay off their children because children may lose interest in things, could change their behavior, and will not normalize the desired behavior by parents. 

Bribing children has bad long-term results as kids might lose interest in activities such as school and extracurricular activities. An experiment conducted by Ryan and Deci states, “When Deci announced that the time was up, and left participants in each of the two rooms alone for a while, members of the group that had been paid for their work tended to drift away from the task to read magazines, while the group that had never been paid was more likely to continue working on the puzzles. Deci concluded that the people offered money no longer experienced that intrinsic motivation.” People who are offered money develop extrinsic motivation towards an experience. When this happens, they may not want to continue doing that experience. 

Also, according to the article “Train a Parent, Spare a Child” by The New York Times, “As early as the 1960s, Edward Deci, then a psychology graduate student at Carnegie Mellon, showed that when external rewards are given, subjects ‘lose intrinsic interest for the activity.’” In other words, kids may lose interest in things when they are rewarded for it since they are only doing that experience just to get the reward, and they stop when the reward is dropped. Parents should not reward kids for doing things since they will lose interest in the activities they are participating in. 

Another reason why guardians should not bribe their children is that when children are regularly bribed, they will not learn the expected behavior as a way of life. It could diminish their feelings of the importance of the expected behavior. For instance, author Laura Markham Ph.D. says, “Research shows that rewarding a child for a behavior communicates that the behavior must be unpleasant, since you ‘have to be rewarded’ for doing it.” The child being bribed will learn to know the task they are bribed for is bad and that they are being given something to do to make it not so unpleasant. 

Moreover, in “Train a Parent, Spare a Child,” “Alan Kazdin, the director of the Yale Parenting Center, said the problem with incentives is they focus too much attention on the desired result instead of the behavior that leads up to the result. ‘You can’t throw rewards at behaviors that don’t exist and get them.’” Parents should teach children the desired behavior they expect so that it becomes normalized instead of rewarding them and hoping the kid’s behavior meets the expectation. Therefore, when bribing children, the child may learn to dislike the behavior their parents bribed them to have. Parents might also not be normalizing the desired behavior they want because the child is only trying to get the reward in the end. 

While some bribes can lead to bad things for a child, others lead to good things, too. Ana Swanson, the writer of “The Scientific Case For Bribing Your Kids,” states, “Two months after the end of the experiment, kids who had been rewarded for their health behavior for a period of five weeks were still eating 44 percent more fruit and vegetables than they had before the experiment begun.” Bribes can cause people to have certain behaviors, but ultimately they undermine intrinsic motivation. Rewards take away the opportunity to learn that the foods are good for their health. For example, the article “The Scientific Case For Bribing Your Kids” says, “In a 1999 analysis of 128 previous studies, researchers found that giving people rewards significantly reduced their motivation to pursue the activity when they were not given a reward.” When a child gets bribed, they lose interest in the activity, do not focus on the value of the behavior, and the behavior never sticks or becomes a way of life. Temporary behavior is only based on the reward, so most children will make the desired change. But even if they keep meeting the objective, they might still lose interest in the activity. This is because they continue to do it for the reward they are getting.   

Parents should not bribe children because they may lose interest in things, and they may not embrace learning why a behavior should become their usual way of life or see any real value in it. Although bribing children will have a temporary behavior change, kids will never learn the value of actually learning the behavior as a way of life and not just for the reward they get in the end. Ultimately, it is best not to bribe kids for long and short-term effects on children.