If you ever want to start a lively discussion among
parents, ask them what they think about paying kids for good grades
or for excelling at a sport. Then sit back and listen to the heated
Most parents seem to fall squarely into one camp or the
other. Some feel money is a great motivator and a realistic
indicator of how the world works. For others, paying for grades
sends the message that money speaks louder than the value of a job
For some students, getting paid can be a huge incentive,
driving them to accomplish something 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
Janet Bodnar, author of Raising Money Smart Kids (Kaplan)
and 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
"Tailor the monetary reward to a specific situation, say
one grading term, to get a grade up," she says.
But she cautions parents to take an active approach when
"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
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.
Jeny Wasilewski of Palos Park remembers going to her
parents after learning that her friends got paid for
"They told me that getting good grades is what you're
supposed to do," she says. "You don't get paid for doing what
you're supposed to do."
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 true learning disabilities that no amount of money can change.
In fact, it could do more harm to teetering self-esteem.
When to pay
But 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 offered my daughter money as an incentive to get
straight A's," says Karen Weiler of Elmhurst. "I knew it was a
reachable goal and I wanted her to see that she could do it. And
Joelle Masolowski of Orland Park and mother of two boys
agrees. "We give the kids money for a straight A report card. It's
more as a reward for demonstrating hard work, responsibility and
effort. They don't expect it ... it's just a treat for a job well
And while $20 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.
What about sports?
In today's world of competitive sports, money speaks 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 in Chicago 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," she says.
Mary Beth Moore, parent of three, has seen the other side
of those rewards.
"My kids have been on sports teams with kids who were
monetarily rewarded for baskets in basketball and it was horrible!"
she says. "They never passed the ball because they were only
focused on making a basket."
However, done in moderation, Masolowski has found that
paying her boys when they do well in hockey gives them a huge
"We've given them money for scoring four or five goals in
a game. But we're also big on promoting the team aspects of sports.
Sometimes passing, playing your position and defending your goal
are more important to your team than scoring," she says.
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
Laura Amann is a freelance writer and the mother of four living in Elmhurst.
See more of Laura's stories here.
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