| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Aug 26 Parents, here is an assignment
for you as the kids head back to school: Are you going to pay
your children to do homework and get good grades?
Some parents find their kids respond to rewards, and see few
disadvantages. Others see too many downsides. "It's a slippery
slope," says Susan Beacham, owner of Money Savvy Generation, a
Lake Bluff, Illinois, company that creates financial literacy
tools and books for children. She has only rarely offered
tangible rewards to her daughters, now 19 and 20, for their
successes. (Both children are in college, at the University of
Illinois and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and Beacham says
they are getting excellent grades.)
Some devise complex rewards systems. Jill Elaine Hughes of
Arlington Heights, Illinois, already has a "good boy points"
plan for her 5-year-old, Elliott, who is entering first grade at
a competitive private school that promises an avalanche of
homework. When Elliott accumulates 20 points - for items like
getting his homework done, making his bed and not pushing his
little sister around - he gets television and video-game
Experts suggest parents calibrate their rewards programs
carefully so the gifts don't backfire. The last thing you want
to do is spend big bucks to turn your kid into a "show me the
Here are suggestions from financial experts and the real
experts - those parents who have already devised their
school-year incentive systems and seen them work.
CONSIDER THE KID
It's crucial to peg the reward system to the individual
child, says Art Markman, a psychology professor at the
University of Texas at Austin.
"If you have one kid who finds math easy and another who
finds math hard, and just one reward system for both of them,
it's going to seem unfair, and it is," says Markman.
The student who struggles in school may need more
reinforcement for making the effort to do homework.
While it's fine to reward results, such as good grades,
Markman says recognizing good effort is more powerful: It
reinforces the idea that persistence pays off. "When kids learn
that lesson, the whole world opens up to them. Nothing is
TIME TO DO WHAT THEY WANT
New devices and time online are most kids' favorite rewards.
But Lynn Clark, author of "The Parent App: Understanding
Families in a Digital Age," doesn't let her 12-year-old daughter
and 14-year-old son use tablets or laptops for fun until after
they've finished their homework.
"Technology is seen as a leisure activity that's a reward,"
says Clark, a media professor at the University of Denver. She
says it's less about the technology than it is about the
"The big reward is about enabling our kids to spend time as
they'd most like to spend it." Clark's kids love the outdoors,
so when her son raised his grades to A's in almost every class,
she took him on a two-day trip to the Colorado wilderness. Her
son jumped at the trip as a welcome chance to do some family
DON'T OVERDO IT
While students may be motivated by free time or trinkets,
parents need to recognize that a sense of mastery may be the
biggest reward, says Dr. Jerry Schecter, a child psychologist in
Skokie, Illinois, and a past president of the Chicago
Association of School Psychologists.
Giving tangible rewards "robs from the intrinsic value of
performing the task, doing it well and succeeding," says
Schecter, who advises against prizes and material perks in all
Chuck Harling, a studio musician and producer from Evergreen
Park, Illinois, says he and his wife reserve material rewards
for when their third-grader, Aidan, turns in a great report
card. During the marking period, they will give him video-game
time as a homework reward, but prefer to focus on helping him
learn that good work is its own reward. "I keep trying to
explain to him that whatever he does, he should strive to be
better at it - and the more he hears it, the more it will sink
in. It's just habit, habit, habit."
MAKE REWARDS EDUCATIONAL
One way to encourage a love of learning for its own sake is
to make the rewards educational. Hughes lets Elliott work on
math puzzles, which he loves, as a reward for completing
homework assignments. And Harling got his son a Kindle for his
birthday. It was a big treat, but Harling and his wife had an
ulterior motive: They can use books as rewards.
REWARD QUALITY, NOT SPEED
There is a downside to offering special treats for "after
your homework is done" - it encourages rushing, warns Trae
Bodge, senior editor of The Real Deal, a lifestyle and consumer
news website. No matter how bad your kids wants screen time, let
them know you'll check their homework. "Once your child is done
with their assignment, always look it over. If you see errors,
try to point them out without judgment."
JUST SAY NO
Several years ago, Beacham's younger daughter proposed a
school-year deal: a new iPhone for straight A's. Beacham
declined, even though she knew her daughter would push herself
extra hard to do it. "I told her, 'If you can do this, I don't
understand why you didn't do it last year. And I don't think you
do, either.'" Her daughter forged ahead and did well that year