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Emily Thorp

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Punishment Not Effective In Motivating Students

Posted: 10/19/2011 8:54 am

As a high school IB student and varsity golf captain, I know how stressful life can get. Everyone wants to get into a good college, so we work ourselves to death trying to make it happen. By the time I get home from school there's homework and studying to be done, but my mom encourages me me to relax and take a study break. The one time l listened to her and tried my hand at not stressing, sure enough, I ended up with a C on my chemistry test. When I saw the grade myself, I felt upset and embarrassed, but my mom wasn't the type to ground me over a bad grade.

Even though my own mom didn't punish me for getting a C on my test, there are plenty of parents that do. Even as juniors, there are some students who get paid $50 for getting straight A's and kids that are punished for getting B's. One parent commented in a recent New York Times discussion forum, "...her [Alyssa's] grades need to be 85 percent or above or she is grounded to the house until the next progress report."

There is a constant pressure to be perfect in high school -- with hefty workloads in multiple classes, extracurricular sports and clubs, and the desire to ultimately get into prestigious universities, there's enough stress as it is. Being punished for receiving a bad grade only adds to the current stress levels. I can't help but wonder, how effective is this method after all?
PBSKids.org featured commentary from children contributors on this subject matter. Their opinions are valuable even though they haven't experienced high school yet because if they are old enough to post comments about grades, then they are able to express their own unique perspectives. Some children like Lacey agree with her parents' decisions when she says, "I think that kids should be punished if they get bad grade. That way they will try harder to not get punished the next time." 13-year-old Angela says that "the punishment for her is her own guilt," which I know is true for myself.

While this idea of reward and punishment in correlation with good and bad grades seems to be rampant in mainstream media, there are other strategies that come into play when handling students' stress levels. My mom isn't the only parent who encourages stress relief and frowns upon penalizing her children for poor grades. It's not necessarily about the end result, but about effort put into studying and school as well as the learning process involved. On usatoday.com, college freshman Lauren Biglow said her parents also encourage her with more positive messages by saying,"You need to take a breath, re-evaluate and decide what you need to cut down on."

All in all, different methods of motivation work for different types of people, and it would be inaccurate to assume that punishing all students for receiving bad grades is not a feasible method. But it's definitely not the most effective means of encouraging students to do well in the majority of cases, and definitely not within my own experience. The most important thing is that parents do whatever they can in order to help their children succeed.

USA Today provides the following tips for parents to help relieve their teens' stress:

  • Ask how your student's day was; not what they got on their math test. When I come home, the last thing I want to talk about is school. I love when my mom has casual conversations with me and I can just relax.
  • Help them make decisions. Some decisions are hard to make, and I always want a second opinion. If you know your teen is biting off more than they can chew, let them know. I seek my mom's advice, and your child will appreciate your honesty.
  • Let them sleep! This is extremely important, trust me. By the end of the week, we're all tired from homework and sports. Let your teen sleep a few extra hours on Saturday and they'll be much happier.


For more tips, visit usatoday.com.

Also, for more information, go to the New York Times "The Learning Network" Blog, and PBSkids.org.