Incentives – Finding a Balance

11 04 2011

Everyone likes incentives. Whether its freebies at a concert or sales at the grocery stores, we love it when people give us stuff. When it comes to training our children, however, parents and educators often scratch their heads over how to find a balance between internal and external motivation.

First Place Trophies
Of course, we want to reward true excellence. Take, for example, the classic science fair. A single winner takes first place because he created the very best science project. For standing out among his peers, he receives a first place trophy. His success is put on display for the entire school to see, and he deserves the recognition.

Motivated – to Win the Prize
While the kid who won the science fair certainly dreamed about the day when he would take home his first place trophy, the true joy of winning was knowing that he quite frankly did the best job. That memory – and the experience garnered from it – is far more valuable than the prize itself.

What many teachers are finding these days, however, is a widespread disinterest among students in simply doing their best. Studying for tests or reading books at home have no intrinsic value in the minds of many students – unless they receive some sort of reward for completing the task. This kind of indifference is extremely destructive to the student’s development of internal motivation.

Combating Indifference
While teachers certainly understand the value of rewarding success, many educators have begun to see the danger of over-rewarding their students. Instead of motivating students to do their work by offering prizes for the minutest task, some teachers are beginning to cut back in their rewards, instructing students in the value of the knowledge garnered.

The true danger in consistently using external motivation is that students may learn to take no satisfaction simply in their success. Imagine how disastrous this could be when taken into the adult world. While we all appreciate a bonus or a pat on the back, our work cannot simply be motivated by the world’s approval. We must take satisfaction in a job well done.

Starting at Home
Training of children invariably starts at home. If we want our children to value hard work and to find the motivation to succeed within themselves, we need to teach them how to do it. Sure, give them that ice cream sundae when they make straight As. But guard against the ice cream being his motivation.

We need to explain to our children the reasons for education – how it benefits them now and in the future. Teachers must do the same. If we work together to teach young people the value of internal motivation we do them a far greater service for their future.

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