My mom used a controversial method of getting us to study. When my sister and I were in elementary school, my mom devised a system where she would pay us $1 for every A, $0.50 per B, nothing for a C, and we owed her money for a D or an F. Report card day was exciting for both of us, as we generally collected a cool $7 or more.
My mom didn’t know that the system never worked since it didn’t motivate us to get good grades. The money was a very nice perk though.
Parents, teachers and child psychology experts are divided on whether or not paying for academic performance is a good idea. On the one hand, some school districts that have instituted payment for book-reading have seen improvement of reading comprehension. On the other hand, students who are paid for good standardized test scores do about as well as they would have without the financial incentive.
So what’s the right way to handle the grade/money connection in your house? Here are some things to think about as you decide if you will be paying Junior and Sis for good grades this school year:
How Are Your Kids Motivated?
One of the biggest concerns about paying for grades is that people believe that children shouldn’t be given incentives for what they should be doing anyway. Children will do well in school if doing well is its own reward. Plus, outside motivation will sometimes spur a student to do the bare minimum to get the reward. And for some students, it doesn’t matter what the exterior motivation is — nothing will get them to do what they don’t want to do.
However, if your child is reward-motivated, it might not be a bad idea to tie rewards to something he otherwise wouldn’t want to do. It’s important to remember that rewards for grades don’t necessarily have to be money. This is particularly true if your child has other sources of money (even an allowance). So if your child loves horses, for example, perhaps you could tell her she’ll get a day at horse farm if she brings her Social Studies grade up from a D to an A.
Another issue with money as a grade motivator is when you have more than one child and they have very different abilities. Rewarding a natural student with money while your child with learning disabilities gets nothing is a recipe for resentment and hatred of school.
Putting payment on a “sliding scale” depending on what your child can accomplish (say, paying for C’s from the kid who struggles but not for the academic achiever) can work if your children understand why you are treating them differently. Still, that could easily cause jealousy and resentment. So think carefully before you act because you jealous between siblings left unchecked could do far more harm than just academic advancement.
What Lesson Do You Want to Teach?
For proponents of money-for-grades, it makes sense to pay children for what’s essentially their job. If we want them to be prepared for the world after schooling, then we should let them see that people are compensated for doing a good job—and receive nothing for a poor one. And how many people would do every aspect of their job — even ones they love — if they weren’t paid for it?
However, likening school to a job can backfire. For one thing, schools can’t really fire students, nor do they have many of the other consequences available to employers for under performing employees. So providing the positive motivation and few of the negative ones gives students a false sense of what work will be like.
David’s Note: I doubt our family will start paying for grades anytime soon, but I disagree slightly with Emily here. Yes, we can’t fire our child from school (nor do we want to!), but giving them nothing when they don’t perform may teach them to work a little harder in the future. The student won’t be evicted from their living space without the money that came from good work, but they will certainly miss the lifestyle they enjoyed when they had good grades.
This, of course, only works if you don’t give them enough money to have a good life in other ways. Consequences, after all, is one of the best ways to prepare children for adult life.
For my family, it’s unlikely that I will pay my son for good grades. I hope to instill in him a love of learning — although I know that’s not always easy. If I need to motivate him with other rewards, I’d like to let him work hard to earn a privilege, rather than money.
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