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3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Pay Your Kids for Good Grades

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So what do you think? Should students get paid for good grades? In junior high, I was friends with a girl whose parents gave her $20 for every A she earned. I remember calculating it. If in one school year (four grading periods times seven classes per period), she got straight A’s, she’d walk away with $560. That’s nothing to sneeze at as a 13-year-old. Shoot, that’s nothing to sneeze at now!

You know what I got if I brought home all A’s? Not in trouble. Good grades were expected, never paid for. And yes, I was jealous of those kids who got rewarded with cash. So do I do things differently with my kids? Well, I try to ease up on the expectations part, but the cash? It’s staying in my pocket. Here are 3 reasons why.

1. Paying for grades actually decreases long-term motivation.

Offering cash for a 1400 on the SATs isn’t a horrible idea. Studies have shown that paying students for achievement on a specific test can increase scores. Researchers propose that incentivizing scores on one exam helps make kids more alert and motivates them to work hard to the last question. But providing cash for grades over an extended time can be counterproductive as it creates extrinsic instead of intrinsic motivation.

In other words, instead of developing a love of learning, paying for grades trains kids to do the minimum amount needed to get the reward, and then they lose interest. I know it feels kind of pie-in-the-sky to say “I want my kids to love to learn.” And my sons are already asking how many more years of school they have left (with the answer being a long “eight” and “nine”). But I also don’t want to actively do anything that is going to hinder their love of learning.

2. Paying for grades can breed entitlement.

Entitlement is a huge issue for parents. If you’ve ever told your kids to do something and their response was, “What are you going to give me if I do?” then you understand what I mean. Some kids think they should get recognized or paid for everything they do (or for simply showing up), and you and I both know that’s just not how life works. Sometimes we need to put in the effort for the sake of a job well done, or because the work needs to get done.

Sometimes we need to put in the effort for the sake of a job well done, or because the work needs to get done. Click To Tweet

My sons saw a random guy picking up trash on their school property and asked why he would do it if it wasn’t his job. I said in a very matter-of-fact way, “He’s picking it up because it’s on the ground.” When we breed entitlement in our kids by paying them for grades, we hinder their ability to see the need around them.

3. Offering money cheapens the grade itself.

My mom used to say that “school is your job and your grades are your payment.” Now your high school senior might argue that grades are not legal tender and she can’t pay for her cell phone with her A’s and B’s. But if you’re offering money, what does the grade itself become? It’s diminished to simply a tool for measurement, and it’s hard to put my finger on it, but something about the sense of accomplishment is taken away.

My fourth grader came home with an 83 on a math test and cried because he thought he’d done better. Thankfully, his teacher allows students to fix their wrong answers and receive partial credit. We high-fived when his fixes raised his 83 to a 92. I think there would’ve been a disconnect for my son if it were all about the money at the end of the grading period. Should students get paid for grades? I don’t think so if you want to instill in them a sense of achievement and pride in their effort.

What to Do Instead

Instead of offering your kids money for grades, allow them to fail. I’m not suggesting you sit back and watch them flounder, but sometimes letting our kids stumble is a great way to help them learn how to run. If my son had decided not to fix his answers and his 83 made him fall short of an overall A or B in math, he would’ve learned the hard way why every bit of effort is important.

And we all can stand to focus more on the journey, not just the destination. If your kids have their eyes on the $50 at the finish line, they might miss seeing a few good lessons along the way.

What do you think? Should students get paid for good grades?

ASK YOUR CHILD...

What’s been your favorite thing you’ve learned in school this year?

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