Should parents bribe their kids?

Published: Sunday, Nov. 4 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

Mary Donnellan of Pompano Beach, Fla., pays her children, Abbey, 10, above, and Abbey's 12-year-old brother, for each A grade on a test in hopes that monetary incentives will help her children establish positive life-long habits and study skills.

Mary Donnellan

Gracie Donnellan waits with her brother at a large oak table with a stack of graded tests in hand, her legs swinging in eagerness.

"All A's this week," says the girl, 10, giddily sliding her schoolwork across the table. Her brother, 12, reluctantly hands his tests to his parents: mostly Bs and Cs.

Mary Donnellan and her husband dole the cash out in the sunlit kitchen of their home in Pompano Beach, Fla. "What have you learned this week in school?" they ask, but the kids have already bolted out the door with the money.

Forty-eight percent of parents pay their kids for good grades, with an "A" bringing in an average of $16.60, new research finds. Though bribery can be a positive incentive for kids, monetizing basic obligations can also undermine the motivation of familial duty. As parents work to instill positive life-long habits, it is helpful to know when it is or isn't effective to provide monetary incentives.

"Our eldest isn't very motivated by rewards, while his sister seems to take the money and run," Donnellan told the Deseret News. "We give them the money, however, in hopes that they will eventually make the connection between hard work and success."

Temporary compliance

The immediacy of a bribe can be alluring, Seth Meyers, licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, told the Deseret News. Parents trying to get an unmanageable child to obey can see bribery as a last resort for temporary compliance.

Parenthood is stressful and bribery is often an appealing option, Jill Smokler, author of "Confessions of a Scary Mommy," told the Deseret News.

Something as simple as bath time can call for drastic measures, Smokler wrote on scarymommy.com. "Wrangle your child, bribe them with whatever it takes to enter the tub, avoid a flood in the bathroom, keep their whining and screaming to a minimum and have them somehow end up dirt-free."

One in five parents confess to bribing their kids to get them to go to bed, according to a study released by the British company Munch and Bunch.

Such resorts, however, can give rise to a torrent of bigger problems, Meyers said. Bribery can show children they can expect a reward every time a fit is thrown.

Bribery doesn't allow children to fully individuate from their parents, Meyers said. "They cannot become their own full-fledged person; they're more like codependents."

Monetary incentives can diminish a child's sense of familial duty, Alyson Schafer, a psychotherapist and author of three parenting books, told the Deseret News.

Parents who pay their children for every household task are failing to teach them the satisfaction of contribution to a whole for non-monetary recognition, Schafer said. "Kids who are indulged don't participate in what we call the give and take that is actually the mechanism that creates cohesion and a sense of affiliation in a group — any group."

When kids get, get, get, they are never asked to give, Schafer said. They develop a "What's in it for me?" attitude.

Buying kids' attention

Clare Levison, a member of the AICPA’s National Financial Literacy Commission, sees no harm in incentivizing children to certain types of motivation.

“A lot of companies pay for performance,” Levison told the Deseret News. “I don’t see anything wrong with using that as a reward for excelling in what is basically a child’s job, which is to be a student.”

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