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MintFamily with Beth Kobliner: Should You Pay for An ‘A’? How to Motivate Your Child — Part 1

good grades

At my friend’s parent-teacher meeting to discuss her eighth-grade son, the teacher made a wacky recommendation: my friend should consider bribery to motivate him to work harder in school.

I’m not kidding.

The educator’s rationale: Preteen boys (and some girls, I’d imagine) are all about instant gratification, and one of the most effective ways to encourage a better work ethic is to dangle some lure to reel in the good grades.

I found this story shocking particularly because my friend had previously raved about how this teacher was uncommonly wise.

iPod for an A, Anyone?

But a lot of folks don’t share my mortification. Apparently, bribing kids for a B or better is the new norm: a full 48% of parents said they pay their kids for grades, according to a new survey from the American Institute of CPAs.

The average price for an A? $16.60!

My gut reaction is that it’s dangerous to set a precedent like this. After all, don’t the parenting books stress the importance of tying a punishment as closely as possible to the infraction?

Miss a curfew? You’re grounded next weekend.

Mean to your little sister? Spend time playing Hi Ho Cherry-O with her.

So I’d assume that the opposite is true: all good deeds should go rewarded … but in context. Offering some unrelated incentive—an iPhone for an A- in honors math or a pair of Beats headphones to boost a grade to a B+ from a C in Algebra 1—is artificial, at best.

After all, isn’t the point to get your kids to work hard for the satisfaction of a job well done? Isn’t a good grade, and all that goes along with it, a reward in and of itself?

At worst, bribery is downright dangerous. (Will it lead to your kid expecting to be paid to get out of bed, do his homework, study for the SATs?)

But then I started to think about the possible benefits of putting a positive spin on the drudgery often inherent to childhood.

If eighth grade tends not to even “count” for college application purposes since admissions officers only look at high school grades—and most savvy adolescents know that—maybe there’s nothing wrong with offering an incentive to a child who needs it.

Pleading, Punishing, or Paying — What Works?

Why punish and castigate when you can encourage and cajole? Maybe tickets to a baseball game or, at the very least, dinner at your child’s favorite pizza place wouldn’t be so crazy.

What did my friend do with her son? In the end, she decided to forgo payola and instead decided to pour on the old-fashioned guilt, some yelling, and outright pleas in order to motivate her child.

Ultimately, her son beefed up his efforts in some classes and casually blew off others. But a year later, he entered ninth grade and suddenly found his own motivation: he wanted to get into a good college and he knew that the way to earn that prize was to shoot for the A’s.

Weigh In

What do you think of this “fee-for-grades model?” I’d love to know what you think. Have you ever done it? If your kids are still young, would you consider it?

In the meantime, I’m going to explore the research behind this and interview the leading academic in the field for my next blog.

Stay tuned … although you won’t be paid to do so.

© 2012 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved

Beth Kobliner is a personal finance commentator and journalist, the author of the New York Times bestseller “Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties,” and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability. Visit her at bethkobliner.com, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.