I’ll do it for a new car and bigger tits: the power of incentives

Ah, the simple lives of teenagers. While the adults of the world agonise over the meaning of their lives, all our teens want are a hot set of wheels and plastic surgery. Life is a lot simpler when you don’t have a mortgage to pay and your outlook doesn’t really stretch beyond next week.

A report in the weekend’s paper gave us some insight into how to motivate teenagers to perform in their high school exams. Granted, the article was focussed on a narrow cross-section of students in the well-heeled, private school classes of the lower north shore and eastern suburbs of Sydney, but it’s still an interesting reveal into what is important to kids as they barrel head long into adulthood.

If I think back to my teenage years, I don’t think that the things that were front of mind for me were particularly different to what is important for the teens of today. What my friends and I were wanting was independence, by means of a car or easy-going parents, as well as anything to prop up our fragile self-esteems, such as a pash with a cute boy, or new clothes.

Things are no different in today’s generation, it seems. The article explains that parents are encouraging studious behaviour by rewarding their teenagers with new cars, iPhones, and even cosmetic surgery and injections. If your mouth is not agape right now, then you are probably one of these well-heeled, private school classes. One of the article’s subjects, a 17-year-old Sarah, says that “receiving rewards for graduation was very common among her friends”. For just graduating?! You only need to turn up to school to eventually graduate, which is hardly an achievement by any definition.

teenage girls waiting room

As an adult who is beyond these teenage problems and is trying to motivate oneself into making changes that will result in a more fulfilling career and better work-life balance, it seems trivial to create incentives like these. The article quotes a University of Sydney economics professor, who sagely says, “if you start giving rewards, there’s a concern this may undermine those intrinsic motivations for why you should care about education in the first place”, which is obvious to anyone that values education.

The thing is that adults institute these sort of incentives as well. How often have you told yourself that you can have dessert if you went for a long gym workout? Or you will reward yourself with a shopping spree if you lost 5kg? Or a holiday abroad after a year without cigarettes? The incentive for these shouldn’t be the reward of the dessert, shopping spree or holiday, but the reward of good health, longer life, and better lifestyle.

Perhaps it’s just a matter of finding the thing that motivates you. I have a girlfriend who has smoked for almost twenty years. Despite developing a hacking cough at the age of thirty, she never had a desire to quit the cancer sticks, since she enjoyed smoking immensely. Graphic advertisements on television showing expanding tumours or black, tarred lungs barely elicited a blink, and knowing that she was at a much greater risk of heart disease, lung cancer, or throat cancer did nothing to dent her enthusiasm for the ciggies. It was only a few months ago when she became pregnant that she, without any hesitation, gave up smoking cold turkey.

Now that’s an incentive.

* Image courtesy of smh.com.au

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