Pros and Cons of Paying Kids for Good Behavior and Grades

Teenage Girl Holding PurseAs parents we tend to revisit certain practices that seemed logical at one time, but for some reason compel us to go back to the drawing board.  I have two situations surrounding the circumstances I give my kids money that I had to reevaluate.  As for my allowance routine – I finally have this one down after several tweaks: Kids get money weekly, and if they do not do what I expect, they get extra work to make up for it (in addition to re-doing what they had neglected).  They earn extra cash if they take on extra work like walking neighbors’ dogs, doing yard work, having a garage sale, having a lemonade stand, etc.  Half of all of their allowances and earned money goes into the bank and the other half they keep for spending money.

In a Pickle

But I found myself this summer… in a pickle. Something I did just did not sit right with me: I rewarded the kids with what I called “Boomer Bucks” ($1 spending money credit for games and miniature golfing credit at Boomers) during the particular times I would catch them behaving well around the house.  I find our summer schedule quite challenging, as since the kids are not in full-day summer camp, they return home daily in between morning and evening activities.  As a management tool, I decided to make a game out of  “catching” one another (they even rewarded me) making really good choices, as to earn “Boomer Buck” credit.  I would basically point out their exemplary behaviors, then go to the chart (maybe a few times a week) and write a big $1 under one or both of their names.

While it was somewhat effective, I came to the conclusion (after following through with what I had started) that I would no longer compensate the kids with money (nor with desserts, for that matter) for acting well and making good choices, as I just did not want to continue to establish a payday situation as a major motivator.  They are 9 and 11, presently, and while extrinsic motivation has a place, at times, I just discovered that I was overdoing it. I recalled that even in school they earn (play) money to spend in the class store, but it is for their doing classroom jobs, not for obeying the teacher nor for getting good grades. I think I would take issue to that, if that were the case.

It just felt unsettling to me - like bribery. Also, I felt that I was conditioning the kids to build a psychological association with two things that I feel don’t ideally go together that send this message: “Mom feels like she needs to pay us to do the right thing.  Let’s keep her thinking that and roll in the rewards! Score!!”   

Money for Good Grades

When it comes to incentivizing kids with money for getting good grades, I have found that many of my online colleagues who responded to me via a few platforms say it is a good idea and works for them:

“Yep. Positive reinforcement. Gives them the freedom of making their own decision, knowing that the outcome will be good, with both good grades and money, as well as the accomplishment of knowing they worked hard to get something good as an end result.” ~ Alisha

“Growing up I was never paid for my grades but I had quite a few friends that were. One of my friend’s mom told me (in HS) that going to school was her kid’s job and he worked hard at it, studying, reading, etc. He didn’t have time for a job in HS due to his heavy academic load so why not reward his efforts. I can see the logic in that, ESPECIALLY these days when kids have so many extracurriculars that earning their own cash could prove difficult, schedule-wise.” ~ Rachel 

“I practiced the money for grades system until it all backfired.  One of my kids spent hardly any time studying and earned twice as much as the other who struggled to get C’s and B’s. In rethinking things, I realized that money need not be involved at all, as it was actually bringing in a value system that invited underlying messages that I do not want associated with my kids and their studies anymore.”  ~ Sara

“I kinda do feel like school is their ‘work’. (He’s 11 ) He gets very good grades and I’ve never paid him for it but we did recently sit down and make a list, including $x amount for extra music practice, $ for each 20 minutes spent on particular education sites, $ for perfect quiz score along with helping me in the garden, etc… it’s not a lot of money and their allowance isn’t much at all! I do feel like it’s positive reinforcement/awards for good habits.”  ~ Denise

“I told my kids that they would get new bikes (not money, but still a reward) if they could bring in all A’s. One of my kids did and the others, A’s and a couple B’s.  I was in a bind, then. I wanted to crawl under a shell. I decided to get all three new bikes and explain that I was proud of them all and that they all worked super hard.  I had put myself in a strange position, and am not sure how I will approach this in the future, honestly, as it is not a competition.” ~ Tanya

What Experts Say

My Facebook inquiry led me into a private online conversation with Roger Wilkerson, an international tutor and owner of  HomeworkSanity.com, and his poignant message resonated most with me:

“One reason to pay is to see the funny look on their face. One reason not to pay, is then they make getting the grades about money and not learning,” he shared.

While I think that parents are all going to find what works for their families, I have come to the conclusion, for myself that is, that I will no longer be giving monetary incentives to my kids to do what I expect of them, which includes earning good grades and turning in their homework promptly.  Having a teaching and counseling background, I do remember studying that, developmentally, it is a good idea to reward extrinsically less and less as the kids develop age-wise, as to encourage them to experience the organic successes of their efforts, vs. routinely expecting a reward.

More than not, professionals such as physiologists and educators agree that paying kids for doing homework and getting grades undermines their intrinsic motivation to succeed, independent of monetary compensation. Instead, it encourages a mindset that their learning and doing things that are expected of them need to be attached to a financial gain to keep them doing their part (false sense of entitlement). Likewise, the parents being the ones to dole out the money are also now forever associated with the greater picture, that hindsight might be a variable that detracts from the ideal that kids can succeed independently, without monetary rewards.

Maybe a reward for a job well done can be an unexpected trip or event to celebrate their individual achievements vs. using money as a bribing tool.  This practice basically celebrates children’s successes without having them associate report card day with payday.  We don’t charge them if they get poor grades, so paying them for good grades has never sat well with me.  Others, maybe….

Dollars.Green for Being Good

I used to work with students whose parents took things even farther, such as paying their kids to stay out of trouble, to do their homework, and to remain drug-free … oh, trust me, the list goes on, and it makes the whole money-for-grades concept shine like a diamond, in comparison! Recently a family made headlines because the parents pay their girl to stay off of Facebook! Whew!

All said and done, I think that parents have so many decisions to make, and one is going to be looking at how we instill the value intrinsic motivation as it relates to our children’s personal achievements.  By whatever paradigm we set up up for our kids, one way or another we are reinforcing in them a value system regarding the direct relationship between their personal responsibilities and financial compensation.

Some find that paying kids for good grades sets them up for the real world’s rewards and is just that much more encouragement to keep them motivated to succeed, and others contend that this method competes with the developmental process of intrinsic motivation and builds a psychological association between achievement and monetary compensation, which do not always go hand-in-hand in the real word, nor on a spiritual level.    

My Backfire!

My other practice that I have halted is bribing my son to massage my arms!  When I was training I was so sore, that out of desperation I would pay him $1 for a 5-minute (per arm) massage, and now he still associates pampering his ol’ mom with a quick $2 in the pocket, and I am afraid it still conjures up for him still, “What kind of money is in this for me?”

Consequently, I am not getting much arm massage love, lately!  Perfect example that extrinsic motivation does not always transfer to intrinsic motivation, as I had wished.  Boo!!! See what I did? No “star for the day” on that one.

What are your thoughts and experiences, since we each have a different scenario and story to tell?

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Category: Community Connections, Gift Ideas, Reviews

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  1. Lua says:

    Glad you’re tackling this topic! Although my son is only in 1st grade, I’ve been wondering about how exactly to set an allowance and teach money management skills. We aren’t quite at the place to pay for grades quite yet but it’s a topic I find interesting. My parents never paid me for grades, but I think it might have been a nice incentive! :)

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