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October 08, 2021

Should parents pay their kids to get good grades?

Should parents pay their kids to bring home better marks? It's a question many are struggling with now that school is entering its second month and test results are starting to trickle in.

While incentives do sometimes produce a change of behaviour, it's limited at best, researchers suggest. In fact, says Penn State professor Barbara Marinak, the research on putting forth monetary rewards is quite clear: They don’t work.

"Any type of 'extrinsic' reward, by and large, undermines motivation," she told National Public Radio.

Similarly, Alfie Kohn, the author of Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s and Other Bribes, says the bigger the reward, the bigger the damage done. 

People who are rewarded tend to pick the easiest possible task, he says. When the rewards are removed, however, they tend to prefer more challenging things to do.

"If some perverse foundation had hired me to try to devise a plan that would destroy what's left of students' interest in learning, it would look very much like this," he maintains.

Despite this, supporters believe that paying students periodically will make the rewards of effective schooling more tangible, and will guide them down the right path.

But others feel the payouts amount to little more than bribes, undermining kids' motivation to do high-quality work when they're not being paid.

“Are you going to follow them around for the rest of their lives and pay them for learning every time there is learning to be done?” Edward Deci, a psychology professor at the University of Rochester, told the New York Times. “Presumably not. So the question is, what happens if they’ve been rewarded and then the rewards stop?”

Does paying for marks make sense? If you offer your kids such incentives, how much and how often?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...