Chain Reaction Foundation

Why Rewards and Recognition Play a Real Role In Human Development

by Margaret Bell | February 1, 2018


We are taught from a young age that doing good is its own reward and that we should not be kind to others or do positive things simply because we expect something in return. While there is some truth in this – and altruism of this nature is certainly a vital part of any functioning society – rewards and recognition are powerful forces, particularly during our formative years.

For young people, it is not so much a case of expecting rewards and recognition for good deeds or for positive actions. It is more that reward and recognition are a wise choice being delivered automatically on merit. If someone is kind to you, you say thank you; this is a small example of what we are discussing here, but the basic mechanism remains the same.

Rewards and Recognition as Practical Developmental Tools

But what about the effects of rewards and recognition? After all, kindness and courtesy are important, but we need to move beyond this. We need to understand that all people are not on an equal footing and that practical measures need to be taken to aid the development of those who find themselves at a disadvantage, whether the disadvantage is related to financial issues, education, or discrimination of any kind.

For many young people in Australia, life is a cycle of confirmation that their existence is on the lower rungs of society; that they are somehow less worthy or less deserving of positive outcomes than other people. This is a heavy burden to carry for anyone, particularly for disadvantaged youth. What then is the point of doing good? What is the point of trying to better oneself and one's situation when feeling as if society has already cast them onto the scrapheap?

A Framework for Growth

By providing rewards and recognition especially for the young, we are giving them a framework for growth. We are demonstrating their value, their worth, and the unique advantages they can offer to society. 

The results of this practice are incredible, both for the mental development of the individual, and for the fabric of the society we are creating for the future. There has been a significant amount of scholarly research into this, including a joint study from the University of Hong Kong and the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

The study found that positive reinforcement and recognition are "especially important to adolescent development because [they promote] identity formation as well as cultivating moral reasoning and social perspective thinking from various social systems."

We owe it to young people, to ourselves, and to our society as a whole, to deliver this recognition where it is needed.

Recognition within Society's Institutions

It is not enough simply to put these measures into practice on an individual level. They need to be built into the very institutions that young people in particular progress through in their early years. A white paper published by Grattan Institute in 2017 found that a lack of positive behavioural reinforcement was a significant problem in Australian schools. This is something which we too have encountered in the experiences of the young who come to us at Learning Ground.

As a society, we need to work to reverse this trend and to make sure that rewards, recognition, and positive reinforcement are key components of development for all young Australians.

In the month of January, we shared our daily #WeRecognise videos on Facebook. These videos are designed to show our commitment to providing rewards and recognition, and our belief in the powerful effect this positivity can have. Head over to our Facebook page to view the latest video.

Margaret Bell, AM - Founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Foundation.

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