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Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School?

A friend shared a recent TIME article “Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School?” This struck a cord with me as I am a father of 3 teenagers–with some personal experience in this area :-)

I have used many methods of incentive over the years, both negative and positive. The bottom line: nothing has been entirely consistent in results. My experience is that motivation works differently with each child, especially when it comes to doing well in school.  I’m not so hot about ‘Bribing’, yet I do see value in paying for performance.

Good is the Enemy of Great” – Jim Collins
I do pay my teenagers for great performance. $100 for an A, $25 for a B, and zip, zero, nuttin for anything less. This means pulling 7 As in one semester is $700, not too shabby. Yet, it still doesn’t work consistently for each of my kids. We want our kids to do well for their own benefit (and sometimes ours), after all doing well increases options and opportunities. I’ve used the analogy that school is their ‘job’, and that they will be paid for doing well in jobs after school, or even while in college–then why not in high school? Oddly enough, the whole ‘work’ thing backfired with my oldest son–any mention or connotation of ‘work’ and he would rebuke me for treating him like an employee instead of a son…

Short-term Goals are important
Pay for Performance doesn’t work on it’s own–even for most adults. In the article, a girl named Chyna works hard for 3-4 weeks, because her birthday is coming up and she wants some money for that reason. Kids need short term goals to fuel the performance. I see this same behavior in my 17 year old, who is really not very motivated by money…unless he’s got a specific goal he wants that requires money to make it happen. He’ll then work his butt off to get there.

My daughter’s grades seem to be influenced most significantly by:
a) Does she like the teacher, and more importantly, does she think the teacher cares about her.
b) Does she talk to her teacher–obviously there is a a bit of a chicken and egg problem here…

Social Influence and Recognition
When I was in Jr. High, I was better at fighting than getting good grades. I remember cheating on a math test and getting positive recognition in 8th grade. it was just enough incentive to make me think–what if i did it without cheating? I did exceptionally well in high school, fueled by the positive social recognition that came from “being smart.” Unfortunately, i’ve never been able to use my experience as a positive motivation for my kids–they see it more as a ‘how do we compete with that’ syndrome.

Bottom line, from my observations, self esteem has the most significant influence on our children’s ability to learn and perform well in school. I’m still working on the right formula–maybe I’ll have it figured out by the time the grand kids arrive 😉

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