Praise, recognition, positive attention...we all crave it. Even people who don't like to be in the spotlight want to know that they and their contributions are appreciated—it is a basic human desire. Coaches and teachers have long known that recognition plays a major role as young people develop new skills. We also now know that recognition plays a role as young people develop standards for their own behaviors.
This link between recognition and behaviors, such as abstaining from using drugs, is rooted in a phenomenon known as bonding or attachment. Simply put, it is all about relationships. We are most strongly influenced by the people that we are bonded to. That is to say that we are more likely to adopt the belief systems and standards for behavior of the people to whom we are emotionally attached. Recognition comes into play because it is a powerful predictor of bonding.
There is lots of evidence that if we provide our youth with opportunities to learn new skills, and then provide them with recognition as they master these skills, they will very likely feel attached to the people and groups that make this happen. Most adults can think of an example of this from their own lives. Perhaps a teacher, or a coach, or a mentor somewhere along the line took the time to work with you and gave you feedback on how to improve? And provided some praise as you got better? For many of us, we developed a special relationship with those persons, and may have been influenced in areas that went beyond the skills that were being purposefully taught. Being aware of this potential can provide insight into how a community can guide its youth.
There are three key ingredients that must come together for our community to realize this. First, there must be plenty of opportunities to learn new skills that are well-suited to our younger citizens’ abilities and interests. Secondly, we must provide meaningful and appropriate recognition of effort and achievement as part of these learning experiences. Finally, we must be sure to be explicit about the community’s standards for behavior once this bonding occurs.
In our next blog we will delve a bit deeper into what research can tell us about meaningful recognition, especially as it relates to the learning of new skills. Not all praise, it seems, is good or useful.