Members in the Media
From: The Washington Post

How to motivate older kids without using rewards, punishment or fear. (No, really.)

Bo Burnham’s movie “Eighth Grade” brilliantly captures the challenges facing tweens and teens. Kids at that age are experiencing a complicated and often awkward time of self-discovery and growth. They are concerned with their identity and sense of self, yet much of what they see and experience can thwart their confidence and ability to make healthy, safe choices. It’s our job as parents and educators to help them develop those skills, but it’s not always clear how to do that effectively. It can be tempting to use rewards, threats or even fear to motivate kids, but years of research have concluded that while those things may work in the short term, they typically backfire in developing the intrinsic motivation kids need to make good choices.

Psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s self-determination theory looks at what motivates people in making choices. The theory assumes that humans are naturally curious to learn and develop knowledge, and it considers autonomy (a sense of control over learning), competence (an ability to handle challenging tasks) and relatedness (feeling a sense of belonging) to be key building blocks in developing an internal motivation to do the right thing.

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Interesting study but what’s really new here? Throughout Skinner’s life he espoused the use of intrinsic rewards not extrinsic ones. It was necessary for him to use extrinsic rewards when demonstrating operant conditioning in order to make such learning observable. However, in ‘real life, as per Walden II and Beyond Freedom and Dignity, he clearly supports relying only on naturally occurring positive reinforcements analogous to those recommended by the authors of this research study. Skinner also strongly encouraged the elimination of coercive and aversive controls . . . (as) such control produced destructive emotional by-products, led to acrimonious social relations, and was ineffective in the long run in promoting social justice and well-being (Skinner, 1953, pp. 171–193). This remained his position on the use of aversive control for the rest of his life (see Skinner, 1973a, 1988, 1990). Behav Anal. 2009 Fall; 32(2): 319–335.

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