I’m raising two teenagers and have discovered just how hard it is to teach them to be polite, to clean up after themselves and to leave the house on time. Would it make sense for me to pay them for better behavior? —Billy
Simple rewards may seem like a good idea, but they often have unintended consequences. Consider the case of Kelly the dolphin, who lived in a marine institute in Mississippi. To teach her to keep her pool clean, her trainers started trading her fish for any litter she collected.
Kelly soon learned that litter of any size would win her a treat. So when a visitor dropped paper into the pool, she would hide it under a rock and tear off one piece at a time to get more fish. Her response was logical but not exactly desirable.
Something similar can happen with children. In studies conducted in the 1980s, psychologist Barry Schwartz had a teacher pay children for every book they finished. The children started choosing shorter books with large print in order to get more rewards—and they reported liking reading less. I think it’s best to teach your children how to act, not how to maximize their pay.
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