Incentives work if you bait the hook properly. You can get almost anyone to do almost anything for the right price.
Everyone has a price
A recent study done by the American Institute of CPAs found that 61% of parents pay their kids an allowance and that 54% expect their kids to earn the money. Parents are trying to fulfill a promise:
I promise to teach you how to make good choices about money and work ethic.
Allowance arrangements work so long as you bait the hook properly. You can get almost anyone to do almost anything for the right price.
Real World Practice
Most parents reserve the control; we decide what we want from our kids and how much its worth. On the surface, it sounds like a great way to mimic the “real world,” but only the world of victimhood. When we control everything, we prepare our kids to accept only that which is offered. For me, this arrangement flies in the face of another parenting promise:
I promised to teach you how to think for themselves and to have the courage to do something about it.
Without encouraging a child’s input regarding allowance, we drop the ball big time.
The Right Bait
For you to catch your fish, you’ll need to bait the hook with the right currency. Is it money, screen time, an iPad, or an extended curfew? It’s all of the above and none of the above; the right bait is power. Kids want control which makes the currency of true incentive power; the power of control.
Paying Kids for Good Grades
Harvard economist, Roland Fryer experimented with paying school kids for grades. Fryer found that incentives worked when they were structured around the child. Consider the power-pay to a kid under this structure:
- The child baits her own hook. Money, privileges, gadgets, etc. all work wonders, but not on all kids all the time.
- The child can win.
“We tend to assume that kids (and adults) know how to achieve success. If they don’t get there, it’s for lack of effort — or talent. Sometimes that’s true. But a lot of the time, people are just flying blind.”—John List, Economist at the University of Chicago
- Simple and objective. You either did it or you didn’t—period.
- Child controls results. Kids don’t control grades; teachers do. In Harvard’s experiment, the successful arrangement paid kids to read books, something they could do without intervention.
- Instant gratification. Frequent pay and feedback.
All roads lead to Rome
Fryer’s ultimate outcome was to increase standardized test scores. The most successful plan focused on reading.
“If you pay a kid to read books, their grades go up higher than if you actually pay a kid for grades,” Fryer says. “Isn’t that cool?”
Parents, follow Fryer’s lead by identifying an ultimate outcome, aka, a parenting promise. Then find 10 ways in which this lesson or life skill can be learned and practiced. Build the whole allowance arrangement around learning the skill.
Power as Currency
Young kids don’t ask for much, but as they grow they naturally expect more. Whether you’re handing out stickers or cash, it’s up to you to make sure everything focuses on your child and your parenting promises.
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