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Is It Okay To Bribe Kids With Money?

Dr. Seth Meyers

Responsibilities & Values

Though some parents may have strong feelings about the notion of paying children to be successful, the issue is actually fairly complicated and worth exploring further. This is not an issue like, say, underage drinking, where there is no question that doing that is bad news and should be avoided altogether. But using money as a reward for investing seriously and pouring yourself into your school work? There are good and bad components when using this model of encouragement.

The ideal child performs well based on internal, intrinsic traits (independence, healthy competition), so the ideal child would always get good grades because that is the smartest and best choice to help secure future success. But we live in a different time where young kids are glued to electronic devices and kids play outside less than ever before. If your child isn’t naturally getting high grades (mostly As with occasional Bs, and nothing below a B), the good, attuned parent will set up a reinforcement or reward system to teach them the lesson of turning in a high quality work product. Critics say that children who get paid to do well will slide back to their old ways in the future when there’s no one there to reward them, but these kids may also learn the lesson themselves along the way.

Possible ways to frame financial rewards for grades

You can choose the amount of money that you will reward for an A and the amount for a B. You can also create another “bonus” if they get, say, 80 percent or higher of As (depending on your family’s financial resources). Is it ideal to bribe your child in this way? No, but what you are bribing them to do – get as good of grades as possible – is extremely important and valuable. Ultimately, it may be the lesser of two evils to pay your kids. One note I recommend is that your child should tell you what they will be spending their money on.

Is bribing or offering financial rewards for winning in sports or another activity okay, too, or is it different than financially rewarding kids for good grades?

I’ve heard of all sorts of unusual practices among parents as I watch my own kids’ soccer and basketball games. It’s astonishing how competitive parents get (yikes, myself included) as they root for their kid to dominate in the game and win. Sure, young kids are told to “Just have fun!” but school age kids very soon learn that sports are serious business and that it is healthy and normal to want to win, win, win. Perhaps a parent pays their teenager for every three-point shot the kid makes in the game, or pays the kid for each game he wins off his opponent in a tennis match. I have found that financially rewarding kids for this kind of success – winning in sports – is not the same as rewarding academic success. Sports are optional; learning in school is a requirement for life and entry into college, the foundation for finding a good job. In short, bribing kids to perform well in sports is not a good idea.

Rewarding children, in general, can be extremely effective and beneficial.

As a psychologist, I advocate setting up reinforcement systems with families I work with because it helps to motivate everyone involved. Rather than be so mercenary and pay for points or games won in sports, set up a reward that teaches another important lesson: not missing a single practice all season, or doing five or so extra hours of prep practice with a buddy. By rewarding the child this way, you are rewarding the consistency and perseverance they have shown, and these are fuels that propel success in the career world later.

Other Non-Money Rewards to Consider

As a rule, I’m not a fan of children under the age of ten walking around with money. They have the rest of their lives to use and worry about money, so during these young years, they should focus on being kids and not worry about the monetary value of everything they touch. For kids under ten, setting up other rewards can be just as meaningful and exciting: a weekend pass to stay up one hour later; hosting a sleepover party for one or two friends; choosing the Saturday or Sunday social outing for the family (the movies, the park, his or her favorite restaurant). More than anything, kids love having a c-h-o-i-c-e. For kids ten or older, rewards that take the form of money can be legitimate. When you give them money, it’s always a good practice to say, “Whenever you get any amount of money, whether five bucks or a hundred dollars, always let yourself spend some and then put some away to save for something you might want in the future. Let’s teach all our children a model of saving!

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Dr. Seth Meyers

Dr. Seth Meyers is a licensed clinical psychologist and author in Los Angeles, California. He specializes in parenting and relationships, and he is trained in multiple evidence-based parenting interventions. Dr. Seth earned his B.A. in psychology from Vassar College and earned his Psy.D. in clinical psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. He appears regularly on television programs, including Good Morning America, 20/20, ABC News, The Doctors, Nancy Grace, Dr. Drew and others. Dr. Seth is the author of Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.