Cash for Grades
Q: How do you feel about rewarding teens with money or other items such as cars, new phones, etc. for grades?
A: As school starts again, you could not have raised a more important issue. Let’s look at it from several perspectives. We all know that there is not one right answer for every child.
We know that what is easy for some teens is extremely difficult for others. We know that some teens are internally motivated while others need help.
For these teens, setting goals, adding structure, routine and rewards, all become critical to overcoming learning and behavioral difficulties.
First, let’s explore distinguishing between celebrations for jobs well done and incentivizing desired behavior.
Some parents are already planning the back to school contracts with their teens, setting expectations for grades and setting terms where financial rewards of one kind or another will be given if the expectations are met.
Many parents do this out of habit; some parents do this as a tradition continuing what their parents did for them. Other parents are hoping that something will help make their child succeed in school, work harder to achieve, and care more about his or her future.
For many of these families, the school teachers and counselors are part of the plan. Sometimes weekly e-mails show progress or problems as students, parents, and schools try to help teens learn and succeed.
Does your teen need these motivators? If not, you might wait until something really special happens and celebrate that success. You can still shape the behavior you want without setting up an expectation that all good behavior gets rewarded.
Some parents have certain things they eventually want to give their teen and they wait until the right moment to give it — thus making a special moment and still giving him or her something useful. Many families use birthdays, graduations, and holidays as a time of gift giving while saving smaller things such as gas cards and coffee shop cards for special treats.
Other families use incentives as an opportunity to teach finance and budgeting. They gave their child a pre-programmed VISA to purchase all the school supplies, clothes, and shoes. They work with their child ahead of time to develop a list of needs, wants, and desires, and then let their teen get prices for the items before the card is given.
This can be a dry run for the time when the young person is self-supporting. Second, let’s look at developmentally what you’ve done with rewards as you have raised your teen and the results those rewards brought.
What kind of rewards worked in the past? Did you start with potty training, carry on through elementary school with grades and homework, and even into middle school? Did your incentives include favorite foods, trips to get ice cream, special evening walks or times at the zoo?
Perhaps the reward was just giving your child special one-on-one time.
As your children have gotten older, have the rewards changed to things such extra time out past curfew or money? Some incentives might involve friends, like taking a friend to the movies, a concert, or dinner. Some families will include a friend for a weekend away, or a football game.
This could be the norm in your family, or you might describe it as a way to show how proud you are for the good judgment your child has shown through his or her actions. Did these incentives bring you closer and make your family more of a team? If so, they worked! If not, what different things might you do now that could make that happen?
Third, let’s look at what behaviors and attitudes rewards might shape both now and in the future. Has your teen grown accustomed to being paid for all work done? In one sense, it does mirror our work world of being paid for what you produce. Is he or she unwilling to do something without an immediate reward?
That might prove to be a problem in the work world. What can you do now to help prepare your teen for college and jobs? Getting your teen to be able to define his or her standards and what he or she thinks merits a special reward is a step.
Finally, what often happens in families where there is little trust, there is limited freedom. With more trust, more freedom is given. Rewards and celebrations are often part of communicating about trusting teens’ choices and behavior and supporting their continued growth.
What are the ways that help them take pride in their behavior without needing your approval? Self-esteem cannot be given from one person to another.
As parents, we create the opportunity for our teens to be proud of themselves and what they accomplished FOR THEMSELVES, not for us. It is critical in our rush to support our teens not to push them to the point of living a life to meet our needs and not theirs.
Accidentally, in our enthusiasm to parent our teens, we can send a message that they are only good enough if they do what we envision for them. They may not take the opportunity to create their own identity.
If you have a child who only performs for rewards, you might want her to start working with a career counselor or someone who could help your teen identify interest areas. When teens get clearer about using special gifts, parents might be able to cut back on rewards and celebrate successes instead. Good luck!