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Paying Kids For Good Grades?

paying-kids-for-good-grades-630x432“A student asked his Zen master how long it would take to reach enlightenment.  “Ten years,” the master said.  But, the student persisted, what if he studied very hard?  “Then 20 years,” the master responded.  Surprised, the student asked how long it would take if he worked very, very hard and became the most dedicated student in the Ashram.  “In that case, 30 years,” the master replied.  His explanation:  “If you have one eye on how close you are to achieving your goal, that leaves only one eye for your task.” ~ From Alfie Kohn, A Case Against Grades.

This topic has surfaced off and on in recent years. Many parents want their children to evidence success at any cost. Let’s look at some of the issues.As the quote at the beginning of this blog suggests, we have two eyes and if only one is focused on the goal we are less likely to achieve that goal.

Is paying for grades like keeping one eye on the goal? Just what is the goal? This is where I believe the dialogue begins.

Do grades equal success? Can a student with poor grades still succeed? We all know the answer to this. Grades are a measure of how well one performed on a certain set of tasks. Grades do not measure intelligence or even grasp of subject matter. They measure how well a student did with a set of questions designed to measure knowledge on a subject.

Teachers I know debate among themselves about the merits of reinforcement, reward, and instilling motivation in young people. Many seasoned teaching professionals do not like the use of paying money for grades to motivate. Others think it is a good idea and related to the way life is. If you do well you get paid more. Hmm. I am not sure about that.

In my clinical practice this issue comes up a good deal. Parents have viewed the various sites on the Internet that report in on the debate. There are many sites if you Google, Paying For Grades.

As a reminder, some of the most important jobs there are, such as teaching, are among those professions where a college educated person will not see financial rewards. Some of the highest paying jobs don’t require any education at all, such as those children and adults in the entertainment industry. There is a huge disparity between economic gain and the efforts or skill sets used to obtain it.

I think there is the issue of parenting and an issue regarding education. For me, parenting leads and is the most important influence for children and teens. What are we saying to children when we reward with money or attempt to motivate with money? I would rather explore what the low, failing, or less than perfect grades are about. I would also rather explore the expectations that good grades equal later success in life.

I help the parents who see me concerning their children to focus in on maintaining a good relationship and communication with their children. I prefer that parents not become afraid that not enough A’s means their child won’t succeed. A happy, well-adjusted, flexible, and emotionally intelligent child will do well in life if their goal is to do well in life. Some of the happiest people I know are not wealthy at all. Some of the most sad are those with considerable wealth.

Instead of communicating that somehow you are in charge of grades by paying you son or daughter, how about having a conversation about grades with your child? Do they want A’s and what does this mean? Do they feel OK about having C’s? Does the occasional D hurt anything? I think we want to communicate to children that we are there to help. What do they want? If they want an A, but it feels too hard to accomplish, why is this so? Can you, the parent, be of help? What would that help look like.

I support letting our children decide who they are going to be. I also support making sure that we know they are making the decision and that it isn’t about feeling they can’t or that if they only had a little help they could do better.

The trend over the past fifteen plus years has been for parents to do their children’s homework, their science fair projects, and many of their child’s papers. This instills inadequacy and fear. A child will grow to learn they are unable to respond to what is expected and fear will set in. It is better to let children experience failure as children and grow, decide, and learn from that. We want children to take responsibility for what happens. A parent is not responsible for a child’s successes. A parent, at best, is there for big arms of support around the child and for support provided by way of wisdom, guidance, ethics, and morality.

So, the next time your child asks for money for grades you might want to think about it. I am reminded of a custom a friend of mine told me about. In the Mormon Church (according to my Mormon friend) birthdays are celebrated in two ways. The child’s birth is celebrated by gift-giving to the child and the child is expected to give the mother a gift. It is because of the mother that the child has a birthday. So, with grades, wouldn’t it be interesting that the mother or father be given a gift every time the child feels he or she succeeded in a way that matters for the child. It would be a thank you, an acknowledgment that no one goes it alone, and an act of gratitude, which never hurts in the big picture.


Be well and take care,

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD


Paying Kids For Good Grades?

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo

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APA Reference
Burton Mongelluzzo, N. (2014). Paying Kids For Good Grades?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 5 Feb 2014
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