We have been diverted the last couple of weeks in this column to politics and family-related issues. It seems good today to get back to good old parenting and the fascinating and challenging micro-issues that come up in our day-to-day families.
Today the issue is whether or not to pay kids for good grades and when it is and isn’t appropriate to offer monetary rewards for behavior. Let us express our viewpoint with a story:
One of our daughters had one of those friends you wish would move to Saskatoon or somewhere else far away.
This little eighth-grade buddy of our daughter Sally (names changed to protect the not-so-innocent) was always saying things we wished Sally wouldn’t hear, giving her bad ideas we wished she hadn’t thought of and bragging about things she could do that we didn’t allow our daughter to do.
One day she told Sally that she got $100 for every A on her report card, and Sally, of course, brought it to our immediate and urgent attention.
We had always had a thing against paying for grades. It was not a part of our family economy, and it seemed like such an artificial motivation and a bad substitute for an understanding of the lifetime “real value” of education.
But it sounded pretty good to Sally.
We thought about it for a couple of days and sort of blundered on to an answer that actually worked beyond our expectations.
I started looking up studies I had heard about regarding education-based variables in people’s earning potential and found that in that particular year, the median annual income (in round numbers) for people without a high school diploma was $25,000, for those with a high school diploma it was $35,000, for those with a college degree it was $56,000 and for those with a professional graduate degree it was more than $100,000.
I shared these numbers with Sally, and we talked about the connections between grades and getting into colleges, getting into really good colleges and going to graduate school. She must have done a little thinking about it, because a few days later, I heard this conversation coming from the back seat of the car:
Sally: How much is it that you get for every A?
Friend: $100. How much do you get?
Sally: Well, I actually get like $75,000 every year for the rest of my life if I get mostly A’s.
The bragging little busybody of a friend had nothing more to say.
Sally’s explanation of her pay for grades was not very complete, and I’m not sure the friend got it. But the point is that Sally got it, and her motivation for working for good grades was based on real numbers from the real world, rather than on some form of parental bribery.
And it was also kind of fun to hear (or not hear) her little know-it-all buddy become completely speechless for once in her life.
We are not saying that a bonus for good grades is always a bad thing. It depends on how it is handled. The important thing is that kids feel that it is their goal to do well in school, not yours.