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MOM: Show me the money!

Should parents pay their children for good grades?

Paying kids for good grades

If you want to start a lively discussion among parents, ask them what they think about paying kids for good grades or for excelling in sports. Then sit back and listen to the heated debate.

Most parents seem to fall squarely into one camp or the other. Some feel that money is a great motivator and a realistic indicator of how the real world works. For others, paying for grades sends the message that money speaks louder than the value of a job well done.

And for some students, getting paid can be a huge incentive, driving them to accomplish something that they weren’t motivated to do on their own. For others, money just isn’t a motivator and no amount of cash reward is going to make them do what you want them to do.

READ MORE: Teach your kids about "dollars and sense"

Use care when making promises

Janet Bodnar
, author of Raising Money Smart Kids (Kaplan) and author of the “Money Smart Kids” column on kiplingers.com, recommends first trying a non-monetary reward such as a special dinner, lots of praise or a favorite dessert. 

If parents want to pay, she recommends trying a temporary monetary promise. “Tailor the monetary reward to a specific situation; say one grading term, to get a grade up.” But she cautions parents to take an active approach when doing this. “Go to the teacher and see if they need more help, go over the homework every night, show them that it’s not just a dollar sign floating out there but something that you’re in together,” she advises.

Parents who are opposed to paying point out that just as we teach our children good manners and kindness, we also need to teach them the value of a job well done. Getting good grades, in their view, is a natural expectation, not something you get rewarded for.

“We stopped giving cash for A’s,” says Kadiyah Lodge from Poughkeepsie. “We explained that working hard and getting a good education is a reward in itself. Luckily, my daughter is still getting A’s.”

Another consideration is that kids are less likely to work creatively when offered money, performing for a grade rather than trying something new or taking on a challenge. And some students have learning disabilities that no amount of money can change. In fact, it could do more harm to teetering self-esteem.

“Motivation should come from the feeling we get when making an effort,” says Beth Anspach of Tivoli. “If a child is not bothered by poor grades or poor performances, we have a bigger issue and motivating them with money will not fix it.”

READ MORE: Are emotional kids smarter?

When to consider paying

While most experts caution against paying for grades, parents who have tried it are often amazed at the results. It can work particularly well if your child is close to reaching a goal but needs an extra push.

“I think positive reinforcement is a good idea. It’s not just the grade, but the effort behind it,” says Beth Shiels, Dutchess county mom. “If my kid works really hard and only gets a B, that means a lot more than a kid who gets an A without any effort.”

And while 20 dollars may seem like a lot to shell out, it’s cheaper than hiring a tutor. For older kids, it could even get them scholarships in the long run.

“Why not pay your child for good grades, it’s their job to go to school and get good grades,” says Karen Riggio from Wappingers Falls. “On second thought, my kids aren’t school age yet, so I may feel differently once they are!”

What about sports?

In today’s world of competitive sports, money speaks a strong language at any level. Spend some time at a youth athletic competition and you’ll see parents shelling out for making baskets, scoring goals or runs or reaching a particular score. 

Dr. John Mayer, an adolescent psychologist and president of the International Sports Professionals Association, cautions against this. “Paying for performance doesn’t teach responsibility, motivation, focus, desire, passion or even skill development,” he says. “Great athletes will tell you that they developed outstanding skills by putting in the extra time without anyone rewarding them. They were intrinsically motivated to succeed.”

Bodnar agrees. “Sports are a voluntary activity. If parents feel they must offer a reward, tie it to a very specific situation.”

“If a child is not giving his all in a sport, that means he doesn't like it,” says Erin Marcus of Montgomery. “No amount of money will make a kid love a sport. My son plays football and loves it. He also took karate, but didn’t like it, so we took him out. Money was never a factor.”

As with all aspects of parenting, every child and every situation is different. Bodnar reminds any parent who is considering using money to motivate, “Reward the effort, not the results.”

Laura Amann is a freelance writer and mother of four children