Archive for Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Widespread ‘bribery’ prompts concern about child parenting

Behavioral rewards may generate sense of entitlement

April 17, 2007


— Call it a reward, or just "bribery." Whichever it is, many parents today readily admit to buying off their children, who get goodies for anything from behaving in a restaurant to sleeping all night in their own beds. Often, the rewards are for behaviors their own parents would have simply expected, just because they said so.

The new dynamic - sometimes seen as a backlash to that strictness - has some parenting experts wondering if today's parents have gone too soft.

"It's definitely more our generation," Kirsten Whipple, a 35-year-old mom in Northbrook, Ill., says with a quiet laugh. "I'm sure our parents would be appalled if they knew how much we bribe our children."

She and her husband try not to overuse rewards and have found they work best for smaller things. For instance, they might offer their boys, ages 5 and 8, a special dessert or a chance to rent a video game if they listen to their baby sitter. A good report card might earn a dinner out to celebrate.

Whipple has noticed a downside though - what she calls a "sense of entitlement."

"Often times, it leads to good behavior with a question attached: 'What are you going to give me?'" she says.

That's part of what worries parenting experts.

"I think that reward systems have a time and a place and work really well to help develop capacities - if we need them to go above and beyond," says Marcy Safyer, director of the Adelphi University Institute for Parenting.

She remembers how, as a child, her own parents promised her an ice cream if she could sit quietly through religious services.

"But what often gets lost for people is being able to figure out how to communicate to their kids that doing the thing is rewarding enough," she says.

Feeling rested in the morning, for instance, could be seen as the reward for not getting up at night.

"Instead, parents are paying their kids to get good grades; they pay their kids to go to sleep," Safyer says, meaning payment as a material reward.

Parents and experts alike agree that the dynamic is partly a reflection of the world we live in - where many families have more than previous generations.

It's unrealistic to think a parent wouldn't reward their children with material things sometimes, says Robin Lanzi, a clinical psychologist and mother of four who's the research director at the Center on Health and Education at Georgetown University.

"But you want to make sure that they match the behavior," Lanzi says.

She recalls hearing about a father who offered his child a Nintendo Wii game system for scoring a couple of goals in a soccer game.

"What was a reward 20 or 30 years ago is a whole lot different than it is now," Lanzi says.

Elizabeth Powell, a mother of two young daughters in Austin, Texas, knows what she means.

"You want to raise them in a way that they're respectful and appreciate things," Powell says of her children. "But sometimes, you wonder now if kids appreciate even a new pair of shoes."

That was something she remembers being a big deal to her as a kid - as were the ice creams and 45 rpm records, or very occasional trips to McDonald's.

Those who specialize in child behavior say they hear those kinds of stories from parents all the time - and often try to suggest methods that don't involve material rewards.

Sometimes, "because I said so" is still a valid tactic. But for something like sleeping in their own bed, Safyer suggests putting stars on a chart for each night the child is able to stay in his or her room - and then making a big deal about the progress.

"Parents' pride in their children goes a long way," she says.


number3of5 11 years, 2 months ago

If you so called parenting experts would have kept your noses out of a parent being able to discipline a child with a spanking, (and I mean a spanking, not a beating as there is a definite difference), maybe parents of today would not be so soft as you now term it. They are afraid that the court system will take their children away from them if the use discipline. I know first hand with my daughters and their children.

Linda Endicott 11 years, 2 months ago

And, unfortunately, the children are the first ones to learn this. They have rights, by God, and you'd better do whatever they demand, or they'll turn you in to SRS.

A woman I know had a daughter who at the age of nine demanded that her mother buy her Pantene shampoo, because some of her friends used it, and it was considered "cool". When her mother told her they couldn't afford it, this nine-year-old child promptly called SRS and turned her mother in for "abuse".

When the child found out that refusing to buy a particular kind of shampoo wasn't considered abuse, even by SRS, she had no problem whatsoever, in her anger, of saying her mother had hit her.

Several months and several investigations later, the woman still had her daughter at home, a daughter she was now afraid to say "no" to about anything. A daughter who had forever damaged her relationship with her mother.

Kids learn at a really young age which tactics to use to get their own way.

costello 11 years, 2 months ago

There really are other parenting options besides either spanking/hitting and being too soft. My parents didn't believe in spanking and never hit me or my sisters. I raised my bio son without hitting, and I'm raising an adopted son now without hitting him. It is possible to discipline without spanking a child. ;-)

Love & Logic is a fabulous parenting program which is highly effective. It is also not soft at all. It's a method of lovingly giving your child the opportunity to make his or her own decisions (within age-appropriate limits, of course) and take the consequences of any bad choices. I highly recommend this program.

Also very, very few children would call SRS and claim their mom was hitting them merely because she wouldn't buy a particular brand of shampoo. I'm sorry your friend went through that, but it's the exception not the rule.

In addition, I don't think SRS is routinely removing children from their families for spanking. Many American parents believe in spanking and use it as part of their child rearing practices. It's legal. The state won't take your kids for spanking alone.

costello 11 years, 2 months ago

This article reminds me of a commercial I've seen a few times recently that implies/says that you should buy an entertainment system for your car so your kids won't bother you while you're driving somewhere. It irritates the heck out of me every time I see it. Why can't kids be expected to entertain themselves and control themselves without an electronic pacifier? Why don't mom and/or dad spend some time interacting with their offspring? It's no wonder we're turning into an ADD nation.

Linda Endicott 11 years, 2 months ago

Sad to say, but many kids DO turn their parents in to SRS when they don't get their own way and they're angry. It happens more often than you probably realize.

Regardless, it doesn't solve the problem of kids who WILL do this kind of thing now, does it?

I for one do not think spanking a child damages them for life. And I mean a spanking, a couple of swats on the butt, not a beating. The kind of spanking I'm talking about usually isn't even felt by the child. But they certainly feel that their parents are displeased with them.

Time out? Certainly, bring on the time do you use it on a child who is so defiant that they refuse to sit in the chair?

If you didn't have these difficulties with your children, Costello, consider yourself very, very fortunate. I've talked with many parents who have children who don't respond to the methods espoused by SRS.

And they can and do take children away from parents just for spanking. No, it isn't against the law. But SRS doesn't condone it, and doesn't look kindly on parents who use spanking.

I always thought that spanking my daughter for attempting to run away from me and into the street was quicker and more effective than, "no, no, darling, don't do that or you'll have to go in time out."

And she didn't have to almost get hit by a car to learn the lesson.

costello 11 years, 2 months ago

Actually, crazyks, my adopted son came to me when he was nearly 13. He's 15 1/2 now. He had serious behavioral problems, including oppositional defiant disorder. Tell him to do anything, and he'd openly and aggressively refuse. He's struck me in the past. He's destroyed my property. He's thrown terrible tantrums. As an example, one time I asked him to put his socks in the laundry; he began raging, ran into my bedroom and slammed the door hard enough to split the frame down the whole length. Another time, I honked my car horn because he was being slow coming out of the house to go to school; he kicked my fender and put a huge dent in it. These are only two of numerous examples. Defiance and disrespect were a way of life. So, no, I didn't have an easy kid.

I've never hit him, and he doesn't do those things anymore.

He did make a false accusation against me to SRS once, but that's because he lived in the foster care system for six years. Kids in the system learn these things. They also often have little loyalty to their foster/adoptive parents. I was lucky because he retracted his accusation as soon as SRS spoke with him. He had been angry with me when he made the accusation. When he stopped being angry, he decided he wanted to stay with me after all.

Probably some kids make false accusations against their biological parents, but I'd say they're in a tiny minority. To say that "many" kids turn their parents into SRS because "they don't get their own way" would be inaccurate. Most kids love their parents and are loyal to them. Most kids also don't want to be foster kids.

I didn't say that spanking a kid damages them for life. I do believe, however, that there are more effective ways of teaching and disciplining children. Adherents of spanking sometimes act like there are only two ways of disciplining children - spanking them or doing nothing at all. This just isn't true.

I didn't recommend "time-out" either. I never timed out my bio son. And with my adopted son's psychological problems, time outs aren't the recommended method of discipline. Some kids who come out of the system aren't comfortable attaching to parent figures. Timing them out is counterproductive, because they WANT to put distance between themselves and the foster/adoptive parent. Timing them out is a reward.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 11 years, 2 months ago

Our son said once he was going to turn us into SRS for not letting him do what he wanted. We just told him, go ahead, we'll turn your room into a sewing room. Oh and by the way, you can't take your computer with you to the foster home. Good luck in your new home. He never used that one again. There are a lot of parents who won't say no to their kids, or they want to be "one" of the kids, instead of taking the role of the adult. I knew a woman who gave her son and daughter televisions for Christmas, and they threw a fit, because it wasn't the right brand. I would have gotten my money back, and given the money to a charity, and have the children personally hand over the money to said charity. But this women went out and exchanged the tvs. She also didn't give them curfews. There is nothing happening after midnight that teenagers should be involved with, unless it's a school funtion or late movie.

Another man I knew used to brag about being considered the "coolest" dad in town. He let his kids have keggers and smoke pot at his house. He said the kids would do it anyway, so why not keep them safe. I pointed out that there are a lot of kids who don't drink and smoke pot, probably because their parents are adults who set limits. Of course, setting limits does nothing for your popularity. I think the nice thing about becoming an adult is that there isn't that adolescent need to be "cool". So, if you are a parent, it's time to grow up and be the adult. If your kid calls the SRS, let them stay in a foster home or shelter for awhile. It will show them how easy they really have it.

costello 11 years, 2 months ago

Posted by dorothyhr

Our son said once he was going to turn us into SRS for not letting him do what he wanted. We just told him, go ahead, we'll turn your room into a sewing room. Oh and by the way, you can't take your computer with you to the foster home. Good luck in your new home. He never used that one again.

A sense of humor helps in parenting, doesn't it? ;-)

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