Why Bribing Kids Hurts Their Spiritual Growth

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Stickers & Candies & Stars—Oh My!

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REWARDS — long a staple in Christian classrooms — may be more harmful than helpful.

You remember the familiar image of the stubborn donkey being prompted forward when tempted by a carrot dangling from a stick in front of him? While the image seems simplistic and even humorous, it’s a perfect illustration of how, to be blunt, you can get someone or something to do what you want.

Is it possible that we — while attempting to lead children into a friendship with God — have unwittingly created a stick-and-carrot approach?

Some have ventured down the road of behaviorism, rooted in B.F. Skinner’s theory that the best way to motivate a person is through systems of rewards and punishments. And, sadly, we’ve subtly distorted our goal of leading children into a lasting friendship with God. Well-meaning children’s ministers, wanting kids to engage in Christian acts such as attending church or memorizing Bible verses, use bribes (often thought of in terms of rewards) to illicit the desired behaviors. Children’s workers convert supply closets into stores where kids exchange earned tokens for prizes.

Kids love our Sunday School resources!

By outward appearances, bribes work. But things aren’t what they seem. On the inside, bribes or rewards create unimaginable distortions in kids’ spiritual growth. Behaviorism has been with us long enough for another generation of researchers to test its premises. So let’s look at fresh research on the implications of this practice.

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