Saturday, October 4, 2008

Incentives for letters

Last week, the magazines associated with two of the major Sunday papers published an extract from Parentonomics on toileting training. Just enough was published to provided an unbalanced view of my crazy economic ways.

This week that appears to have provoked 70 percent of the letters in the magazine responding to the article. Most were, not surprisingly, dead against using incentives for toilet training. One reader said that children are intrinsically motivated and "another step towards maturity -- celebrated by their loved ones -- is the greatest reward." Well, I for one am happy to celebrate steps towards maturity but sadly if that was their greatest reward then not many steps are actually taking place.

Another lamented reducing toilet-training to "a cold economic transaction" and missing out on the "opportunity to witness your child's ability to learn and evolve." Again, we tried to savour that opportunity but found that that ability was non-existent.

Then there was the reader who said that: "One would hope that Joshua Gans has the intelligence to realise that an ecalation from jelly beans to chocolate frogs at age two turns into a phone at age 10, a new car at 16 and a Ferrari at 21." Well I guess I didn't and I had better start saving for that Ferrari lest I have to change a 21 year old's nappies.

But the award for letter of the week had four children and employed "incentive contracts." He found, like we did, that incentives sometimes went array with older children (who received treats) trying to encourage the younger one to go whenever they wanted sugar and some reversion as their children drove a hard bargain when the rewards were scaled down.

Interestingly, that writer received -- and I am not making this up -- a touch-screen mobile phone (valued at $699) for his efforts as the best letter writer. Well done. I guess for everyone else writing their letter was its own reward so everyone went away happy.