TEENS DO IT FOR BRIBES
Researchers from a top British university have discovered that if you want to get the best out of a young person, you may need to bribe them. Scientists from University College London have found that, unlike teenagers, adult brains are able to weigh up rewards and punishments equally and use this information to make decisions.
But for youngsters aged between 12 and 17, rewards are seen as a bigger motivator.
The study, titled The Computational Development of Reinforcement Learning during Adolescence, was published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology and compared how adults and teens made decisions based on available information.
Researchers studied 18 children aged between 12 and 17, and 20 adults aged between 18 and 32. They were given tasks to complete in which they had to choose abstract symbols, which were then associated with a reward, punishment or no outcome.
As the participants progressed, they learnt which symbols were likely to lead to each outcome and adjusted their choices accordingly.
Researchers found that while both adults and teens were good at learning to choose the rewarding symbols, the adolescents were less good at avoiding those associated with punishment.
And when adults were told how another choice of symbol would have changed things, they performed better. Teenagers, though, did not take this information into account. So how does this information help parents? Basically, teenagers make choices based on what’s in it for them. And they would be more likely to wash the dish es, for example, if there was a reward involved.
Parenting expert Nikki Bush says it should come as no surprise that most of today’s teens expect rewards.
“Reward works for this generation purely because they’ve been brought up in a reward-based culture. As children, parents and teachers used star charts to motivate them, so they’ve always been used to rewards-based systems for doing things properly,” she said.
Bush says teens are now looking for rewards for doing mundane things, and cautioned parents against over-rewarding them.
“We have to be careful of not overdoing the star charts and not over-rewarding the children for very normal behaviour. If children don’t experience the consequences of their actions, then they don’t experience cause and effect,” she says.
“We have parents hovering over and protecting their children from the negative consequences of their actions and if they don’t experience it for themselves, it has no meaning.”
Referring to the study, Bush said parents needed to be cautious because it skewed the concept of reality for the child.
“Children who are brought up in this manner are often seeking constant approval and we see it in the workplace with millennials. We find that a lot of entry-level millennials in the workplace cannot function independently without constant guidance.
“This then hampers their ability to become independent and fully functional. It’s all about balance, really.
“To raise a child in today’s world, we have to teach them the good and the bad. Yes, a reward system is beneficial. But they shouldn’t be rewarded for mundane things,” says Bush.