Applauding Praise? Consider the Danger!

The emails started coming in as soon as the article hit the internet. Along with the link came personal messages ranging from mild frustration to complete outrage.

It took me several hours to finally get to the article in the Burlington Free Press. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t that surprised by most of what I read. Oh, I was upset to be sure, but not surprised. I’ve read 1000’s of articles just like this one in the 20 years I have been teaching.

I did do a bit of research on PBS and I suspect that there is more to this program than what was reported in this article.

The part of this article I found profoundly disturbing was this –

“The approach is succeeding for many reasons, starting perhaps, with human nature. “I think children really in their hearts want to please adults,” Knopf said. “They want to know that they are doing a good job, they want to be recognized when they are doing a good job.”

I could not imagine why an entire school would institute a program that left children at greater risk of being manipulated and exploited by predators all for the sake of “less discipline problems”.

As the mother of 5, I can not imagine anything more dangerous than for an entire school to be training children how to “please adults”. I don’t know any child who can distinguish the adults who have the child’s best interest at heart and the adults who view children as prey.

Here are a few points to consider:

  • If this system works for the teachers in the classroom, would it not work equally as well for the predators within the school?
  • What will happen to these kids who have been indoctrinated with this system when they step into the real world?
  • Does the school think that at some point the kids will understand that no one else will praise, compliment or reward them for doing what is expected of them and that really this was a trick, to “get” kids to behave?
  • Will these kids be trained to demand rewards each time they do as they are told, or follow the rules? At what point is this school going to adequately prepare these children for the real world – or isn’t that their job?

I shudder to think of all the ramifications of this program. In light of all the research based studies suggesting that praise is a danger to children on so many levels, it seems irresponsible, at best, for this school to be instituting something that is clearly a “quick-fix” strategy and is motivated, so it seems, by numbers instead of real lives.

In my Parenting On Track™ program we outline the dangers of Praise and offer a more substantial, long-term, fulfilling way to acknowledge children’s strengths and character traits. Encouragement helps children develop self-confidence, self-esteem and a clear understanding of who they are in the world and what choices they can make to support who they “be”, not who someone wants them to “be”.

Watch Video Sample from Chapter 7 of my Parenting On Track™ program.

For more information about the dangers of praise:

How Not to Talk to Your Kids, By Po Bronson

Punished By Rewards, Alfie Kohn

Five Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job, Alfie Kohn

For more information about my Parenting On Track™ program that teaches you how to help your child develop a strong sense of self and supports you as you identify what it will take for YOUR child to be encouraged and to participate in life, visit:

2 thoughts on “Applauding Praise? Consider the Danger!

  1. I shuddered when I read that article! I can only hope that it has been greatly misrepresented by the reporter, or by those with whom he/she chose to speak.

    I recognized some of the terms in the article as things that have been in use at my son’s school for 2+ years now: the principles of “respect self, respect others, respect environment…” However, my son’s school seems to be pretty good at applying this without the “praise-junkie” aspect. It’s more a matter of a teacher saying “I noticed you did x,y,z. That’s really helpful in keeping the classroom/school running smoothly. Thank you.” For a time, they did write up the observations on cards and hand them to the kids and/or put them up on a bulletin board, but that seems to have faded.

    From what little I’ve been able to directly observe, it’s NOT being used the way the article indicated: no praising the student – audibly and in earshot of those who are not doing the desired behavior. It tends to be more of a one-on-one discussion. No attempt to hide it from the others, but also no attempt to “use it” to overtly influence others — none of the loud-voiced “OH THANK YOU FOR PUTTING AWAY YOUR COAT, JUNIOR”. Kids see right through that crap anyway, and it often makes the one exhibiting the desired behavior a target for for other kids, rather than a model.

    However, my bet is that even in this school where the emphasis is not on praise, the difference between noticing and praising may be lost on some of the faculty, staff and parents. Some “get it”, and some just think that they’re being asked to heap praise on the kids. (I know I can’t claim to “get it” all of the time.)

    I sure hope someone in the school system featured in the article points out to the “powers that be” the dangers of what they are doing in terms of conditioning the kids for predators, even though it may seem to solve the school’s problems in the short run.

  2. Thanks for your feedback. There were so many things to address in that article and you seemed to capture them all.

    I do hope, if nothing else, that all the feedback from the article opens up a conversation about this program and it’s application.


Comments are closed.