Paid for Good Grades -
What the Research Shows

A lot of parents think that kids should be paid for good grades and other accomplishments such as doing well in sports. Other parents believe that external rewards rob a child of intrinsic motivation: the desire to do well simply because it feels good. Whether to pay kids for good grades has long been a subject of debate. Some parents believe that if you do a good job, you should be rewarded which will lead to more successes in the future. When asked about this topic, one well-known psychologist quipped, "If I didn't get paid to do my job, then I probably would not be working." Why shouldn't kids get paid for doing well in school, sports and with regard to their behavior?

This question begs answering, but first let me share some stories.

During my eldest son's elementary school years, he had a best friend named Alan. Alan's parents were divorced and he spent alternate weeks at each parent's house. Alan's father paid his son daily for good behavior, completing homework and doing chores around the house. Back then, he earned $1 per day, so that by the end of the week, he'd have $7. Although Alan's parents did have struggles with their son, according to the latest research, this single dad might have stumbled upon an important factor in motivating behavior, but before we get to that, let me give you another example of how parents often motivate a child for a job well done.

paid for good grades

Paid for Good Grades and Doing Well in Sports?

When my eldest son was 8 years old, we signed him up for SYFL football. My husband and I were in charge of videoing the football games for the coaches to review later and one day, when the coach's son made a touchdown, one of the dads who was sitting with us in the box with us exclaimed, "He just made another $100!" When I asked him what he meant by that he told me that the coach paid his son $100 for every touchdown that he made. This was later confirmed by the coach who was the CFO for a national construction company.

How do you feel about paying your kids for doing well in academics and sports? And what do you think about paying kids for good behavior?

Although some parents and experts feel that paying kids for performance diminishes a child's ability to motivate himself, others heartily disagree.

I will tell you that in my own case, all it took was the promise of a McDonald's cheeseburger, vanilla shake and fries to get me to earn good grades. Okay, well maybe this isn't entirely true. Actually, my father never paid me for grades, but the local McDonalds rewarded students with free food if they earned good grades on their report card. Of course, I was one of those kids who liked to learn and excel in school, so a free meal from McDonald's was just a bonus and wasn't something that truly motivated me. What motivated me more was besting my younger sister.

Although the most recent research on the subject directly support the idea that kids should be paid for good grades, it does tease out which types of external rewards actually do influence achievement. (Check out this article on how to motivate kids for more ideas.) In a study by Harvard economist, Richard Fryer, kids were divided into four groups based on where they lived. In New York City, kids were rewarded for achieving higher test scores on standardized tests. This did not affect their performance.


In Chicago, students were paid for performing better on standardized tests. This did not affect their test scores either. In Washington D.C., the study was done a little differently. Kids were paid for better behavior—for good attendance, avoiding conflicts, etc. This created a small increase on test scores. Finally in Dallas, kids were paid for reading books. This reward system led to the most improvement of all four groups.

So what does this tell parents? If they want to use external motivators, kids work a lot like dogs … in other words, the rewards need to be immediate, not based on some anticipated performance or behavior in the future. This may be because they have not yet developed the prefrontal cortex—the executive center of their brain that helps them set long term goals.

The issue of whether kids should be paid for good grades is a family decision. Your money might be better spent on rewarding your child for reading books or other behaviors that contribute to getting good grades. It's more about the timing than the reward because as the research shows, paying kids at the end of the semester for a good report card is not as effective as we once believed.

If you are the parent of a child who is unmotivated and does not seem to care at all about school, then I suggest you read this article on the Total Transformation because this can help turn your child around in terms of doing well in school and overall behavior.


Copyright © by Laura Ramirez. All rights reserved. Laura Ramirez is the award-winning author of Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom and Parenting and Parenting the Native Way: Raising Children to Live in Balance with the Natural World.

Paid for Good Grades - Parenting Advice

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