What Do You Think: Is It Worth Paying Kids for Good Report Cards?

pay kids
Carissa Rogers under Creative Commons

Want to cause an uproar at the grownup table this Thanksgiving? Looking for a way to rile up other parents?

Casually bring up whether or not to pay kids for good grades. People tend to have pretty strong feelings about slipping Junior a few bucks for each A on his report card.

But, let’s start off by acknowledging that paying kids for good grades can actually work.

A 2012 study from “Freakonomics” researcher Steven D. Levitt and colleagues found that students did better on tests when promised money or trophies for good grades.

However, there’s more to the equation than Sally getting an A on her next math test. You want her to do well in school, but also develop self-motivation to work hard and a desire to learn.

There’s a long-standing fear that paying your child for good grades erodes the development of those important traits.

So what’s a parent to do? Let’s look into reasoning from both sides.

The Pros of Paying for Good Report Cards

First, let’s get inside the mind of a parent who has a checkbook and isn’t afraid to use it.

Grades are Important

Students who perform better in school generally do better going forward. So parents will take any opportunity to improve their student’s grades.

“The simple truth is: that money is a carrot dangling before them,” writes cash-paying parent and co-founder of AskTheMoneyCoach.com Lynette Khalfani-Cox.

“Actually, it’s more like a lingering incentive, hovering in the back of their minds when they might be tempted to slack off or to coast a bit toward the end of a class,” Khalfani-Cox adds.

This is How the World Works

Some parents argue this isn’t the first time children will be paid to do things they don’t want to do. That’s how jobs work — and they’re going to be working for most of their adult lives.

“I don’t see a problem with offering an incentive at the end of a grading period,” Erika Douglass wrote on the TODAY Mom’s Facebook page. “It’s actually very similar to adult life in the career market. At the end of an evaluation period, there is an incentive to earning high marks; a promotion, a raise.”

Welcome to the real world, kids.

Financial Incentives Increase Motivation

Levitt, the “Freakonomics” researcher, says his own parents’ offers of money for grades boosted his academic performance.

“One thing is certain: since my only sources of income were those grade-related bribes and the money I could win off my friends playing poker, I tried a lot harder in high school than I would have without the cash incentives,” he says.

And he ended up writing a best-selling book, so he seems to have turned out OK.

Getting Good Grades Gives Students a Taste of Success

“The excitement and adrenaline of success are addictive, and if you get to experience it, whatever the motivation, you’re inclined to seek it again,” writes mother-of-four Demetria Gallegos, who rewards her children with outings and shopping trips, rather than cash.

I see my incentives as helping orient my daughters toward success,” she writes.

The Cons of Paying Kids for Good Report Cards

However, some parents hold tight to the other side of the argument. Here’s why:

Kids Don’t Always Care About Money

So what then?

“One argument against this line of thinking is that kids do not understand the importance of earning money and often don’t really need their own money,” says Matt Breed, who writes about college and education.

If the money does not matter to them, the grades won’t matter,” Breed says.

Being Paid for Grades Decreases Desire to Learn

“It has short-term gain, but long-term pain,” says educational psychologist Michele Borba. “That love of learning goes out, and instead what the child loves is cash and not the subject of the learning.”

Outside Incentives Take Away From Internal Work Ethic

Remember Gallegos, the mother who rewards her children with non-cash incentives? Well, her husband, John, is firmly against student bribes.

“They must value education,” he says. “Giving them bribes is corrupting that value. They’re going to live their whole lives and you’re not going to be around to bribe them.”

With strong arguments on both sides, it’s not exactly an open-and-shut case.

Like most things in life, this one boils down to following your gut.

What works for some families just doesn’t make any sense for others,” writes “Make Your Kid a Money Genius” author Beth Kobliner. “Beyond that, your decision may boil down to knowing your own kid.”

Your turn: Do you pay your kids for grades? Did your parents pay you for yours? (And did it work?) Let us know in the comments!

Lyndsee Simpson is a freelance writer and editor in Washington, D.C. Her parents never paid her for her grades and she’s still mad about it.