Saturday, 17 November 2012

Child labour

Child labour
16 November 2012

Child labour – so effective, so free and so illegal.  Hey, it’s not all bad.  I’m not talking little kids in sweat shops making t-shirts, working ungodly hours for very negligible amounts of money, type of child labour.  I’m more talking about child labour from my own kids.  You know, my slaves if you like.  The reason I had kids in the first place.  Because at the end of the day, if you don’t get them to do stuff for you, what was the point in acquiring them in the first place?  Seriously!

In my fourteen odd years as a parent, this is what I’ve learnt about child labour.  For the first few years, they can be annoyingly helpful.  Real eager little beavers.  Always at the cutting edge.  Happy to help with cooking, if it enables them to wield sharp knives and hover over a burning hot stove.  Jobs involving danger, possibly electrocution have lots of appeal.  So too, jobs involving precarious balancing acts.  Running with scissors are a given.  Poking little fingers into dangerous places are the best, as well as sticking their head right in front of you, thereby obstructing your view while you’re trying to do something delicate.  But their intentions are so good.  They just love helping and feeling needed.  Being praised for their hard work and appreciated is so good for their little ego’s.  And as a parent, patience is key.  Quite often I’ve thought up little jobs, just to boost their ego’s.  Jobs that didn’t need doing.  Things I’d have to patiently fix and undo again after their “help”.  All behind their backs off course, so as to not offend their “excellent” skills and nullify their efforts.

But older kids?  Well, with them, it’s a whole new kettle of fish so to speak.  They reach a certain age, which is actually a lot younger than you might think.  An age where they turn into lumps of lard.  Hard to motivate.  Instructions to do tasks are always met with comments of “It’s so unfair.  Why am I the only one?  My friends never have to do stuff (liars, I tell you).  I just want to relax (a personal favourite).  It’s not my turn (no, actually this one is my favourite).  I’ll do it just now (this comment is normally followed by a snippy retort, a quick jab, or a klap – all metered out by me).”

Teenage boys around the world, and even some adults too, have been patiently and not so patiently waiting for the release of the Call of Duty Black Ops II game.  The much anticipated release date was the 13th of November.  In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if many of them resorted to charts and the like, so that they could wake up every morning and tick off how many sleeps were still left before the eagle would be landing.  Luke’s heart’s desire was to get this game.  He has all of its predecessors already and it’s one of his all-time favourites.  It was all that any of the kids spoke about at school, despite the fact that they’re actually busy writing exams at the moment and should be studying.  Everyone was so excited and on the day of the release, Luke said that most of his bbm contacts (and he has absolute loads of those) had a Black Ops II pic as their profile pic on their phones.  It was the topic of all bbm status’s and on Facebook too.  Obsession, I tell you.

But here’s the deal.  Much as Luke wanted this game, we don’t just have random money lying around in order for us to purchase computer games.  For no special reason that is.  Everyone pre-ordered their games.  This ensured that you actually got it and the shops weren’t sold out.  It also entitled you to bonus maps and other awesome goodies.  So, Grant and I gave it some thought, and decided to put a suggestion forward to Luke.  We would pre-order the game and get it for him for Christmas.  But it would be a Christmas present and he would therefore have to wait until Christmas time before he could play it.  I don’t like doing stuff like this.  Presents are supposed to be a marvellous surprise, not a foregone conclusion of what you’re getting.  It takes away all the mystery, intrigue and anticipation too.  This felt like a very boring and tedious solution to what to get Luke for Christmas.  However, Luke jumped at the opportunity.  Anything just to get his much loved game.

Well, that was until we actually physically had the game in our possession.  Then he started talking about the fact that everyone was already playing their game and that he would have to wait another 41 sleeps until he’d be able to play his too.  41 very long sleeps.  I knew for a fact that he would drive me nuts long before the allotted time was over.  It also felt a bit unfair, making him wait so long.  Cruelty if you like.  Imagine having your favourite thing in the whole world, within touching distance.  Yours technically, yet just not yours yet.  So, I suppose I caved a bit.  I thought about what would be a humane and fair solution to Luke’s game dilemma.  A solution that would be equally fair to Amber and Cole too.

I spoke to Grant about my bright spark idea, and he jumped on board too.  This was our offer to Luke:  He would buy the game for himself.  But how would he do this?  He only had R84 in savings.  The plan was quite simply, that Grant and I would be “loan-sharks” if you like.  We had after-all already paid for the game.  Luke would hand over his R84.  And work the rest of his debt off in chores around the house.  He would however have the pleasure of playing the game in advance – before setting all of his debt.  A marvellous solution.  Luke leapt at the opportunity and with immediate effect, he handed over his dosh and a chart was put up against the fridge.  Now just for the sake of clarity, we would not “pay” him for the usual little jobs around the house.  Jobs he would normally do for free, because everyone has to pull some weight and lend a helping hand.  These would be extra’s and not part of the norm.  And to date, it’s been quite effective.  The other night he topped and tailed beans for supper and chopped them up too.  He’s helped Grant a bit in the garden, putting up our inflatable pool, etc.  And so far, he’s been way more eager to help as opposed to the past, when he received no payment at all.  When helping out was simply done in order to be nice and a good kid.  And it was expected of him.

I have also learnt from this.  If you get a big enough carrot, without the resorting to the use of a stick, it can be highly effective as a motivational tool to encourage help.  This will probably be true for most things too.  Because surely we are more motivated to help and succeed if we gain something in the process, even if it’s just praise.  This outcome being preferable than rather than being berated and threatened into action.  I believe that in the end, Luke will have a deeper appreciation for his game and feel pride in his purchase.  He will also have a feeling of accomplishment as well.  A win-win all around.

I am proud of our little deal and with the results it has yielded.  The only downfall now, is the fact that Amber and Cole are now also eager to enter into negotiations with us, in order to buy stuff for themselves too.

I fear this might end up being costly.  But perhaps the lesson they learn will be worth more, than the actual money we’ll be spending.  But is this not bribery?  A very old fashioned tool?  No, I believe not.  They choose their reward in advance.  Something which they hold dear and want very badly.  They work towards a goal.  And have an end reward in their sights.  Ideally completing all tasks and having the money first, before making their purchase, rather than the back to front way we did it with Luke.

I think productivity might be kicked up a notch in the Cloete household.  And I look forward to increased eagerness and helpfulness from young and old.  So given the choice of a carrot or a stick, the carrot will win every time.  Highly effective me-thinks.

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