That’s Some Lousy Parenting, Right There

And I’m not even talking about the kale. 

Watch this:

Let’s get the obvious point out of the way first: Children should not be made to consume large quantities of raw kale. There’s nothing in that “superfood” that is actually going to benefit their bodies, and harm can be done. We can argue about that some other time, though, veggie lovers, because what I’m really appalled by is the “manifestation of goals” this mother engages in, also known as “bribery”.

Now, tell me this, Mom: When your kids grow up and drink a raw kale smoothie, will that then “manifest” as a reward at Target without your intervention? I’m going to insert here an old post I wrote way back in November of 2010, because everything old is new again eventually:

Taking my six year-old to Pizza Hut last night to collect his very first–and very last—Book-It reward for reading, I asked him if he was looking forward to reading his next book.

“Why would I want to do that?” 
was his reply.

With those words, uttered in complete innocence, the fine mood I’d been in came crashing down to the ground. Suddenly, I was angry. Great. I have de-motivated my son instead of motivating him. Since I hadn’t told him I have 6 vouchers for free pizza, he thought this was all there was. So why try?

I relieved my frustration by envisioning my wildly-chuckling self ripping the vouchers to shreds and burning them. I may have even thought up an incantation to recite while lighting up that offensive booklet. Then I got my son the pizza I’d promised him, came home, and completely forgot to rip those suckers up. Oh, well. They can rot, for all I care. They’ve done me no good whatsoever. Before, I had a boy who read books just to be reading. Now I have a boy who thinks reading is such a miserable chore that you have to bribe him to do it.

Parenting 101: Our kids’ attitudes are formed by our expectations.
 In implementing this reward system I signaled to my son that reading is something disagreeable, and not worth doing for its own sake. Here’s the thing, though: I knew that. I do not reward my children for doing what they ought to be doing anyway. I’ve never used candy or stickers to bribe my kids during potty-training or for anything else I want them to learn. I do give gifts to celebrate milestones sometimes,  but not as rewards the child is working toward. For us the finished product is the prize. So what happened to those high-falutin’ ideals this time?

Instead of sticking to my usual methods, when I learned about the Book-It program for homeschoolers, I went for the freebie. Free is good, right? Try as I may, I can not resist a freebie. I just wanted to get some of that sweet pizza action for my kid.

I hearkened back to my memories of the program when I was in school. I loved to read, so the pizza was just a neat thing to me, a poor kid who didn’t get restaurant food very often. I do remember feeling like my teachers were being rather patronizing, thinking I’d never read if they didn’t trick me into it. I wasn’t deterred from reading after the program ended because I didn’t care very much what the pizza was for. If they’d offered rewards for something I hated doing, like public speaking, I wouldn’t have been getting that pie. The fact that I can remember feeling that way–slightly embarrassed to even be accepting the reward–really ought to have deterred me from “encouraging” my own kids this way. Ah, but everybody says it works!

In public schools, kids expect their teachers to be condescending, handing out a certificate every time a student remembers to cover his mouth when he sneezes. Our system pretty much demands it, lest some slow child be left behind, or worse, feel inferior. The children recover from those slights and do what they’re going to do anyway, incentives or no incentives. A good learner will learn. A poor learner won’t, no matter how high the cheesy, saucy stakes.

Kids do not expect that kind of horse-trading from their parents, however. At least, mine don’t. I don’t work that way, and they know it, so it must have thrown my son for quite a loop when I explained this program to him. He must have gotten the idea that that reading isn’t to be done for its own sake. Now I’m going to have to undo my bad work.
Hopefully, the memory of this whole thing will fade and

the child will rediscover the joy of reading just because he can.


I have no doubt he will, since I’m just going to expect it and he’s just going to have to. I’m trying not to kick myself too hard for this ridiculous mistake. It’s really just a hiccup for us…

So why would those kids drink the kale in the future? (Perhaps we should be relieved to think that they probably won’t.) Why would my son read a book?  When he reads a book, that does not “manifest” as a pizza anymore. If I didn’t like reading, I either wouldn’t read now, or if I did read simply because I was taught that I should, would I then hie me to the kitchen for a brownie to reward myself? Probably. This goes for allowances, too. Is your allowance based on whether children get their daily chores finished? The chores that they should be doing because the reward is a clean home and a happy family?

Are they learning that working around the home, for your family, is a cash transaction?

What are you really teaching your children when you tie an unrelated reward to the action?  Let’s pretend for a moment that drinking kale (God help us) actually is a healthy thing to do. Only if the children’s goal was “get healthy” is that “manifestation” going to happen for them outside of your parental intervention. What that child has learned is that if he does something unpleasant, he now deserves something pleasant that is completely unrelated to the unpleasant thing.

You’re setting up an addictive and self-destructive cycle in your child! Every “good” thing he does is now an excuse for self-indulgence. 

Do you know somebody who has a piece of cake or a glass of alcohol (or more) at the end of a hard day (or hour) because he “deserves” it? If so, you’re looking at someone who never learned to do the Thing for the sake of the Thing itself. It’s not a bad thing to have a piece of cake or a glass of wine, provided that you’re healthy enough to take the temporary hit to your biological state, but it is a very bad thing if the only reason you stayed on your job after the boss yelled at you was so you could justify your indulgence afterwards.

Mom, if kale is good for him, then he should be drinking these hideous smoothies because the health effects are manifest. If he’s not far-sighted and self-controlled enough to do that yet, you simply expect him to drink it, and model that behavior for him, until he’s old enough to make that decision for himself. Good luck with that, though. Kale is so far from healthful that small children instinctively avoid it. But if the health effects are real, he will see them, first in you, and then in himself. That is the true manifestation of the true goal.

I’m sure that none of my readers would ever do this. You are obviously of a discerning mind, or you wouldn’t be here, right? But I have fallen into that trap, lacking discernment myself at times. Any parent who is desperate to get a struggling child onto the straight and narrow has at least been tempted to use these tactics. Don’t fall for it, moms and dads. As you can see from my own experience, it is counterproductive in the long run.


One thought on “That’s Some Lousy Parenting, Right There

  1. My kids actually like kale chips! What’s the concern with kale?
    I pay my kids for chores so they learn to handle money at a young age. They don’t get paid for every single chore, and understand that we don’t always have extraneous rewards in life. But we also have to work in some way to earn money.

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