Should Parents Pay Kids for Good Grades?

By Michelle Luce

There is a raging debate that will not be settled here.

"Is it Smart to Pay for Good Grades" by Liz Pulliam Weston for, gives compelling reasons not to. First, giving money, whether $5, $25 or more, exchanges the intrinsic reward of pride for a job well done, for an external one, which "…interferes with developing a work ethic." All parents want for their children to the best they can do for the satisfaction of having done a good job. As the child reaches his mid-teens, the parent hopes for the child to be self motivated enough to do his best because he wants to.

Her second point is that monetary compensation may not be effective. While money may work for one child, it won't work for another. Some students like the "bonus" of money for good grades but weren't motivated by it because of their natural ability or the enjoyment of learning.

Scholastic suggests that using money is most effective if it is done spontaneously.  "Kids who are aware of grade-incentives lose interest in the task twice as fast as those who didn't know a reward was coming."

And in a New York Times article, "One of the first such studies was published in 1971 by Edward L. Deci, a psychologist at the University of Rochester, who reported that once the incentives stopped coming, students showed less interest in the task at hand than those who received no reward."

Liz Pulliam Weston's next argument is that paying for "A's" is not fair. A child who makes an "A" without so much as breaking a sweat is rewarded while another child struggles, pouring heart and soul into his studies, and earns a "C" gets nothing. Children with learning disabilities, who are unable to make an "A" might feel slighted. You might suggest, then, a sliding scale. Which could work if your children are able to understand that Mary is rewarded for a "C" as her best work while Billy is only rewarded for "A's." I don't know about your house, but that would be a sticky wicket in mine.

Weston also likens paying for "A's" to a drug addiction. Five dollars might work this quarter but getting the same results in the next quarter might require more. Where does it end? A car in high school? Our fear is students won't love learning for the sake of learning. "I try to instill a sense of intrinsic reward in the students. I'd rather see a student want to learn for the sake of learning than learn for the sake of a car." says Reagan Hawkins, a teacher in Nederland, Texas.

To me, the key is training your student to understand that learning can be in itself a great reward. Pushing hard to ace the trig exam is worth it. Being able to say all the prepositions or the eight times tables is its own reward.

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