Saturday, January 06, 2007,8:53 PM
Helpfulness, Rewards, and Bed Bugs
So that’s what’s been on my mind recently … helpfulness, rewards, and bed bugs. Well, not constantly, but their what has been annoying me when I stop to think about them. Let me expound…

People don’t help others any more. I’m not talking on a large grand scale of sending money to help AIDS orphans or signing up to help in a soup kitchen – I mean random people lending a helping hand. I’m a person (a woman) with very little upper body strength and I’m handicapped (missing an arm) and in the past few weeks I’ve found myself in the position while shopping of seriously needing help with large, awkward, heavy objects. And here’s what happened. I was at Menards trying to transfer a 50 lb bag of salt into my car (and of course it hasn’t snowed since..). The guy collecting the carts in the parking lot came and stood behind me for the 5+ minutes while I struggled, waiting for my cart. He never offered to help, just looked at me impatiently. Same thing today at Target – I struggled for over 10 minutes to get a bunch of plastic bins out of my cart into my car. Two high school guys were out collecting carts. They stopped right behind me talking about video games then said I was taking to long and moved on. Never offered to help. Then at IKEA the other day I was picking up a very very heavy piece of furniture (in a box of course) and since it was the stupid Schaumburg IKEA you can only get your car within 6 feet of the cart barrier. So there I was straddling this box trying to inch it towards the car and this young fit man (not an employee, they were no where to be found that day) just stood there watching me – I’m sure I looked amusing. After about five minutes he said, “I guess I should help you shouldn’t I,” and then easily picked up the box and put it in my car.

I don’t get it. I’m no fan of the mentality that women are mere damsels in distress unable to do things for themselves, but sometimes some of us just really do need the help. And I understand the fear some women have of strange men approaching them, but couldn’t the employees at least lend a hand? Like the number of times I complete some serious gymnastics moves just to get a store door open and get me and a stroller through it while the employees stand there smoking (right by the door of course) and watch me struggle. Why doesn’t it occur to people to help? Is it such a foreign concept these days? Okay – so there’s my “kids these days” “what’s wrong with the world” rant.

So I’m a huge fan of Alfie Kohn’s books – (Punished by Rewards, Unconditional Parenting). I want to do my best to avoid using the threat of punishment or the reward of a bribe in order to manipulate Emma to do what I want. Such things are ineffective in the long run and have the horrible side effect of killing intrinsic motivation or the enjoyment in the thing itself. But our culture is enslaved to the allure of this pop behaviorism. Rewards, praise and bribes are everywhere.

Emma just started a gymnastics class (toddlers in gymnastics is amusing in so many ways) and the teachers are heavy into the whole bribe system. “If you hang on the monkey bars you can play in the pit,” “if you walk on the beam you can jump on the trampoline,” “You were so good today; you get a stamp on your hand.” I shudder each time I hear them say stuff like that. Do they have any clue what they are doing? The message is that things like the monkey bars, the beam, or gymnastics itself are not things to be enjoyed for themselves but are merely means to get better rewards. But if we didn’t teach kids those things why would they ever come to those conclusions. I want Emma to have fun at gymnastics – and right now the beam, the monkey bars, the pit, the trampoline, and the stamp at the end are all part of this fun new experience. And I want to tell myself that she isn’t “getting” all those things her teachers tell her, but that may just be my naïveté. And it scares me. This taste she is being exposed to now in gymnastics at the YMCA is the norm for any type of education in America. Nothing is valued or appreciated for itself – it’s all done to avoid punishment or receive rewards. That's all grades are – but then teachers add on all types of other stupid incentives (gold stars, recess, game days…). It is all so warped. And here I am silly mom who stuck her kid right into the whole mess.

Bed bugs
So this post is really long already, but ever since our church's New Years party when I got to hear about the recent increase in bed bugs in America, I’ve been really creeped out. People I know are getting bit as the travel, then bringing them home. After being almost wiped out during the DDT days of the 1940s and 50s the bugs are back. (read more here). So I went to about 6 different stores this week to find anti-allergen bed wraps and mattress pads for our bed and pillows. Mike thought I was nuts, but since we needed a new mattress pad anyway, he didn’t complain. I’m not a hypochondriac or a super neat freak (neither are really the correct term for the bed bug issue, but I can’t think of the right one at the moment) – but the whole idea of bed bugs is just gross

So – that’s a glimpse into Julie’s random thoughts of the week…

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posted by Julie at 8:53 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 1/06/2007 11:25:00 PM, Blogger Makeesha

    I love your thoughts on parenting. Have you heard of our mothering board? maybe you already asked me this...if so I'm sorry for being dense.

  • At 1/07/2007 07:05:00 PM, Blogger gerbmom

    If you think it's bad now, wait till Emma is in school. Especially if she doesn't conform to whatever they consider appropriate, or normal. It's all about bribes and rewards. (And here I digress to say, that by being politically correct we now group all children together - BD, LD, ADD, Gifted, "normal"...just how is a teacher expected to get anything done unless she bribes the kids to exhibit quiet, robot like behavior?) Unfortunately, schools themselves are victims of this too via standardized testing. Good scores, more funding. Bad scores - your students can choose a better preforming school elsewhere. And so, we teach to the test. Bah. Don't get me started......

  • At 1/07/2007 09:59:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Makeesha - I'll check out the site...

    Gerbmom ;) - its depressing the way the system works. Reading books like Punished by Rewards really scares me - makes me almost want to homeschool. But could you imagine a wild and crazy sociable girl like Emma being homeschooled! I know there are other options, its just frustrating.

  • At 1/08/2007 06:17:00 AM, Anonymous Johnny Brooks

    Watch out for those bedbugs. We have been infested here in kenya, and well they are very anoying. Not dangerous just pesky, and itchy. We tried something a few days ago and so far so good no bites. We shall see if it works.

  • At 1/11/2007 05:12:00 PM, Blogger i am not

    I think you're right on with your thoughts on the rewards. In my opinion it is just another clear example of lazy parenting - not truly teaching your child or allowing them to experience and learn for him/herself, but rather taking the easy route to get to the desired end result.

    An example: I went on a picnic with my 2 girls (at the time I was pregnant w/ #3) and two moms with their kids. The oldest children were 4 at the time. We had each packed brown bag lunches for our kids and had set them up on a blanket to eat together. One of the older girls was trying to get her straw in the juice box and one of the other mothers said, "Oh honey, thats too hard for you, let me do that." I was apalled. I live in a world where we allow my kids to try, we allow them to crack eggs for pancakes when they're 2 years old so that they learn how to crack eggs, we allow our kids to try to do things even if they're hard (how revolutionary, I know) and if they need help, they are expected to ask for help.

    How in the world are our children going to learn how to do things if we don't allow them to try? And what is the magic age that we allow them to open their own juicebox straw? And when are we going to start expecting our children to behave simply because they are expected to behave? And how in the world do we expect our kids to respect authority if the only way grown-ups exercise their authority is to bribe and/or reward?

    Sometimes I wonder if we're setting our children up for some major, major pain and heartache in their lives by raising them to be kind, gentle, responsible, sympathetic, unselfish, caring etc. human beings, when it certainly seems that others are not raising their kids that way.

    You are right on, Julie. And you got me going:) Sorry for the long comment, but really, this bothers me - A LOT;)

  • At 1/12/2007 09:51:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    Hi - thanks for the comment-

    You mentioned the thought that you wonder if we are preparing our kids for "major pain and heartache in their lives by raising them to be kind, gentle, responsible, sympathetic, unselfish, caring etc. human beings, when it certainly seems that others are not raising their kids that way."

    This always gets me. Or the response that its a cold hard world and so our kids need to be ready for it or the whole they need to hit first in order to survive mentality. I want my child to be caring, unselfish and all that even if everyone else is not. I want her to enjoy books even if the school system try their hardest to prevent that. I want her to shun violence even if all the examples of authority she sees (other parents, our president) use violence as their first option. If it is a cold world that has bought into systems of rewards and punishments, I want her to know something different, be a better person than that, and be an instrument of change.

  • At 1/12/2007 10:40:00 AM, Blogger i am not

    I think it is going to be difficult to be counter-cultural parents. I already notice a slight feeling of guilt that I don't have my 4 year old signed up for dance classes, soccer and art. I hate that. I want to provide experiences for her, but not at the expense of making her life so busy that she can't be a kid.

    I have rarely happened upon someone who seems to have the same feelings as I do as a parent. I try to be intentional in the way I live my life and I try to be intentional in the way I parent my children and it sounds like you do, too. I want to, right now, be a source of encouragement for you to continue what you're doing regardless of what society is saying.

    I, too, have thought that perhaps homeschooling would be a better option, but knowing myself well enough, I realize that it isn't the best option for my kids - I wouldn't enjoy it and neither would they. However, it does seem like the only way to make sure they are not subject to that kind of stuff... Somehow we need to help them navigate their way through life the correct way regardless of outside influences. Lots of prayer, I suppose - and intentionality.

    I don't mean to hi-jack your blog or your post, I am just very passionate about this aspect of parenting. AND I am so glad there is someone else out there that feels the same way:)

  • At 1/13/2007 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    That's so discouraging to hear about people not giving you a helping hand (literally.) My experience living in New England was similar. People even looked at you strangely if you smiled at a stranger. Here in New Jersey people are moderately nice. When people see me crashing a stroller into the door because the baby doesn't want to be in it, while I hoist the baby over my pregnant belly, people open the door. But when it comes to friendships, people seem mostly clickish and just totally into their own suburban lives.

    RE Parenting: I struggle with that one. I am all for encouraging instrinsic enjoyment and innate expectation of success-cooperation, validating kids' feelings, not doing things for kids they can do for themselves, etc. However, my daughter is quite energetic and does not naturally follow directions when asked to do so, nor is she naturally into trying new things for the pure joy of it, and frequently validating her feelings just maks her wail louder, rather than resulting in the cookie cutter response of, "Oh I feel so much better now that I'm validated and understood, so I'll come up with my own solution." And there are times when I am not up for being ultra creative and playful, and I also do believe consistency, natural consequences and taking care of oneself as a parent are important. And I sure hope that an occasional reward is not going to damage a child for life, as long as the overall tenor is one of relationship, appreciation, authenticity, confidence-expectation and continuing to journey together as a family, doing what seems healthy and balanced at each stage of child and family development.

    Nika attends a quaker preschool, and so far that has been a very good place for her. There seems to be a value on human beings over achievement standards and pushing kids to get "tracked" by age four.

  • At 1/13/2007 06:43:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    No issues with the discussion - I think issues of parenting are often ignored. People go for whatever is easiest or what the people around tem are doing. To question that means to make people actually think about what they are doing... not a popular option.

    I do hope I can find an affordable preschool that I actually want to send Emma to...

  • At 1/13/2007 08:53:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    I really enjoyed the post about parenting, Julie. I'll have to read that book. I posted some of my own thoughts on my blog (rather than post multiple paragraphs here taking up a lot of space.)


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