The Pros and Cons of Academic Allowance

Should children be paid for making good grades?

Should we pay our children for making good grades? Parents frequently disagree on this subject, and good arguments can be made on both sides. Research suggests that paying students for good grades can be effective, but the results are often only temporary. Approximately half of the parents in the U.S. do provide monetary incentive for good grades, while about half do not. Sometimes referred to as an “academic allowance,” amounts vary by household, but an example would be that students would receive $10 for A’s and $5 for B’s. In order to be transparent, I’ll share that I was given monetary rewards for my report cards, and I incentivized my sons in the same way.

Some parents are opposed to the idea of paying for good grades. Some may find that their children aren’t motivated by this incentive. These parents may want to focus their attention in different directions. For example, parents might want to insist that all homework is complete before screen time or another reward is allowed. As a classroom teacher, I’d like to offer a word of wisdom. My students have a list of morning assignments to complete while I work with some small groups who are struggling with something in particular. There are written assignments to complete before the computer assignments are begun. I have found that some students will rush through the written material in order to get to the computer assignments. You don’t want your child to rush through the homework assignments in order to obtain screen time. You will likely need to provide some quality control by checking over the homework before allowing the screen time. This will also give parents the opportunity to see what the child is learning in school. Parents may also spot areas in which students are experiencing difficulties. This is a wonderful chance for parents to provide assistance when needed.

Parents on this side of the fence will want to provide praise and verbal encouragement. Remember to praise the effort as much as the results. If the child worked diligently on the assignment, but didn’t do very well, be sure to tell the student how proud you are of his effort. Let him know you are impressed with the way he didn’t become discouraged and give up. Then, provide some assistance with the assignment. Help your child to understand the mistakes that were made. Remind children that we learn by making mistakes. If we never made mistakes, we wouldn’t be learning anything new.

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One of the most common arguments against an academic allowance is that children won’t develop a love of learning. They will only be motivated to learn in order to earn monetary compensation. I haven’t seen the research on this, but I can speak to it personally. As an adult, I still have a tremendous love of learning. Paying me for my grades certainly never squelched that.

Parents who don’t wish to pay for grades may consider some other options. If the child does bring home a good report card, the parents may wish to suggest a special celebration. Dinner at a favorite restaurant or a trip to the ice cream parlor may be in order. This should be treated as a celebration of a goal having been achieved.

Some parents do see advantages to paying children for their grades. There are a number of reasons to consider this option. Many parents view school as the current occupation of the child. This is a way for children to actually earn their money, rather than just having it given to them. This may help to foster a good work ethic. Additionally, the child is getting paid more when she achieves better results. In some ways, this mirrors real life.

Providing an academic allowance can also demonstrate to children that education is valued by the parents. In general, we spend money on those things that we prioritize in life.

Once students have earned their reward, there are more life lessons to be learned. For example, the child learns about the amount of work involved in earning this money. This may encourage children to spend and save more wisely as they grow.

While we would all like for the intrinsic reward and the love of learning to be enough motivation, there are times when it simply isn’t. We aren’t all interested in every subject. One of my sons has never enjoyed math. There was never any intrinsic motivation for him to learn math. He is currently a senior in college, and he has even chosen a major that requires little math. Perhaps the extrinsic motivation is particularly helpful to children in the subject areas that don’t interest them.

There are valid arguments on both sides of this controversy. Whether monetary compensation works well may depend upon the individual child involved. If you do choose to provide an academic allowance for your child, I think it is important that you explain your reasoning. Take time to explain your thinking and have a discussion with the child. Providing an academic allowance without a thorough explanation will likely not produce the results you are seeking.

Categories: Big Kids, Features