Pardon me while I settle myself down on my porch and shake my cane at passersby. All young whippersnappers should probably steer clear of me for their own safety. It's not that I mean to be cranky, it's that I'm suddenly feeling quite old and fed up with today's award-based messages to our kids.
There's no shortage of stories about the travesty that is the American need for everyone to be a winner. Participate in a sport? Get a trophy! Participate in a contest? Get a ribbon! Participate in some other random thing? Here's your certificate of participation! No one is special when everyone is. We've spoon-fed our kids the need to "get" something every single time they bother to get out of bed. And then we wonder why they feel unfulfilled, unmotivated, or generally directionless.
None of this is news, of course. And I have tried, with my own kids, to do the "right" things: praise their efforts, but not too much; reward for actual accomplishments, but not feel the need to reward everything; extoll the virtues of intangibles like teamwork and creativity and persistence rather than whether they bring home an object which can (and will) collect dust. It doesn't matter. A culture of prizes means I'm swimming against a strong current in this particular area.
I expect this in the classroom (sadly). I expect this in various organized activities. Not a lot surprises me anymore when it comes to overt or implicit messages to my children that the prize is the thing, but yesterday I just about fell over from disbelief… at the orthodontist.
I couldn't make this stuff up, people. If there was ever any doubt in my mind that as parents we are waging a war when trying to raise up the next generation to be happy and kind and fulfilled, there was the evidence right there next to the model of the human jaw.
Both of my children have been seeing this orthodontist for five years, ever since we first moved to Georgia. Both of my children have already had braces, though for various reasons which are irrelevant to the matter at hand, my youngest had what's referred to "phase one" treatment (as an elementary schooler) and my oldest had "phase two" treatment (in middle school). This means my youngest is still losing/growing some teeth, and has to be periodically checked to see if they think he'll need a second set of braces once he finishes cultivating his adult choppers. Because I'm trying to be a good parent, I take him in for a check every six months or so, as directed.
Now, it's bad enough that most orthodontists' offices nowadays are replete with video games and computer stations and other expensive diversions to keep kids happy while they wait. Picture me shaking my cane as I assure you that back in my day, when waiting at the orthodontist you could either watch cartoons on the tiny 12" television (which seemed a real luxury at the time) or read a magazine. I don't know why kids can't wait a few minutes without their own personal computer gaming station, but whatever. My children both have beautiful smiles, now, thanks to this orthodontist. I think they do good work.
But today when I was trying to check out and make an appointment for my son's next visit, the woman behind the desk suddenly whipped out something that looked like a credit card and handed it to my kid, while saying in a way-too-excited tone of voice, "And THIS is your new REWARDS CARD!" Then she handed him a piece of paper detailing all of the ways he can earn points that go onto his card.
He gets points for every visit. Points for making his next appointment. Points for losing a baby tooth. Points for a cavity-free dentist visit. Points for remembering to bring his card with him. Points for having points. Lord. The whole thing was completely ridiculous.
And he was utterly mesmerized. Because he thought it was the greatest thing ever, and with enough points, he can trade them in for things like gift cards to the book store.
I was disgusted, and also really annoyed that I wasn't asked if we wanted to participate or not. The assumption was that of course we would want to, and that we would view this as a hugely positive opportunity. And now that he has the card, I figure my best course of action is just to pretend I've forgotten all about it… and hope he does, too. I mean, it's not that there's anything wrong with being able to earn some rewards, I guess, but WHY? His reward for going to the orthodontist is that… he has straight teeth. Does he really need an external motivation for doing all of the normal self-care things he needs to do anyway? And P.S., it's not like middle schoolers are driving themselves to the orthodontist—they're going to go to these appointments because their parents have prioritized these things and get them there. And don't even get me started on rewarding them for losing baby teeth; congratulations, you… followed a biological imperative over which you have no control! Good job! Here's your medal!
Please stop rewarding kids for just existing. It devalues their real accomplishments, and sends the message that nothing is worth doing unless there's something shiny to take home at the end. Some things—lots of things, really—have to be done just because they have to be done. That's called life. I can think or no faster path to generalized dissatisfaction with life than this sort of gimme-the-prize indoctrination.
Now get off my lawn.
Am I being touchy? It's not just me, right? All these rewards for regular stuff is the fast path to losing your happy?
(get more Mir here. It's very rewarding.)