Readers Defend Paying for Grades

Many of you argue that school is a child's job, so good work deserves financial compensation. Here's why I still, respectfully, disagree.

Wow! My column recommending that parents not pay their kids for good grades has generated a flood of e-mail, much of it disagreeing with me.

For the most part, readers who took the opposing view feel that getting good grades is a child's job, and, like any job, deserves compensation. I loved this droll observation from one reader: "You have to be careful paying for grades. When students become adults, they might think there's a link between excellent work and higher pay."

As I wrote, paying for grades may work temporarily if things don't get out of control (although one reader assures me that video games work even better). But eventually you'll have to wean kids from external reward to internal satisfaction. And kids need to appreciate that a good education has intrinsic value that will lead to an even bigger payoff in the future.

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In my opinion, going to school isn't so much a "job" that demands a paycheck as it is a child's role in the family. It's my "job" as a mother to plan meals for my family, but I don't expect to get paid (although an occasional "Thanks, Mom" is always nice).

It also seems to me that learning is a sign of a child's natural growth and development. We don't pay our kids for mastering skills such as tying their shoes or riding a bike, nor should we pay them for learning to read. Plus, performance in school can be influenced by so many other things -- among them a child's basic intelligence, personality traits, home environment and learning style.

Lots of parents are probably wasting their cash on kids who would have been motivated to get good grades anyway (and for whom a college scholarship would be a more appropriate financial reward). One of my co-workers confessed that she's paying her son, a high school freshman, an "exorbitant" amount for grades, but she suspects his improved performance reflects a desire for a fresh start after a rocky middle-school career.

I still like the idea of a spontaneous reward, along with a show of parental pride (and, yes, my teenage sons loved it when I told them they did great -- as long as I didn't embarrass them in front of their friends). Even in the workplace, a boost in morale can sometimes mean more than a raise in pay.

My favorite letter came from a young woman who remembers fondly that her mother promised her dinner at Red Lobster each time she made the honor roll. "Not only did I get my meal (and I loved seafood), but it was also quality time that my mother and I spent together. That was priceless."

Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar is editor-at-large of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, a position she assumed after retiring as editor of the magazine after eight years at the helm. She is a nationally recognized expert on the subjects of women and money, children's and family finances, and financial literacy. She is the author of two books, Money Smart Women and Raising Money Smart Kids. As editor-at-large, she writes two popular columns for Kiplinger, "Money Smart Women" and "Living in Retirement." Bodnar is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is a member of its Board of Trustees. She received her master's degree from Columbia University, where she was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism.