Should You Bribe Students for Good Behavior?

Is bribing students for good behavior ever a good choice? Consider these questions:

  • If a police officer pulls you over for speeding, should you bribe the officer to not give you a ticket? Of course not!
  • If a co-worker misses a deadline on a project, should you bribe them to get their work done on time? No!
  • If a student in your class doesn’t do their homework, should you bribe them to complete it? Never!
  • If your child misbehaves, should you bribe them for good behavior? No way!

In all these instances, bribes are not a good idea. So why then do so many adults still try to “reward” youth in order to manipulate behavior? After all, a reward is really just a bribe in disguise.

Now some people like to state that adults are rewarded all the time, in that they work primarily for the reward of money. This statement is not only over-simplified; it is incorrect.

Realize that employment is a social contract where a person’s labor is compensated with remuneration. It’s not a reward for doing a task.

Have you ever thanked your employer for your reward of being paid? Sure, if you still receive a physical paycheck rather than direct deposit, you may thank the person who walks around and delivers your paycheck. But what are you really thanking that person for? If you think about it, you’re thanking that person for the delivery service, not the actual money. In fact, in most cases, the person delivering the paycheck is not your boss or someone who issues your pay. It’s someone in payroll whose job is to walk around and deliver paychecks.

If you’re like many people, you probably receive your paycheck via direct deposit. After each pay cycle, do you march into your boss’s office and thank them or write them a thank you note? No. That’s because compensation is not a reward.

When it comes to youth, the ultimate goal of adults is to teach children how to be intrinsically motivated—to display good behavior simply because it’s the right thing to do. The problem is that using bribes NEVER transfers to intrinsic motivation. External manipulators change and detour motivation.

Instead, bribes promote, “What will I get for it?” thinking. As has been proven in countless studies, when the reward is gone so is the motivation.

What is your view on bribes and rewards? Please share your comments on the Without Stress Facebook page.