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Should parents pay their child for good grades?

Should parents pay their child for good grades?

4 min read
  • Parents & guardians

Have you heard of the cash-for-grades scheme? Like the name suggests, it rewards students with money for the grades they achieve and is often used by parents in an attempt to motivate their child to study.

But does this scheme actually work, or can it be more damaging to students’ motivation in the long term? Let’s take a closer look at what the research suggests…

The pros of paying your child for good grades

Research has suggested that financial incentives can potentially help improve performance, whether the task is interesting or not.

To test this further, some schools in Texas implemented the cash-for-grades scheme, giving students cash incentives for passing their advanced placement (AP) exam. The researchers foundthat this technique led to an increase in test scores, and that students were also much more likely to go to college and have higher wages in the workplace later on. However, it’s important to note that teachers also received cash incentives, which may have factored in these results.

Another study however found that younger students’ academic performance only improved when they were paid to read books, as opposed to being paid for better grades. One possible reason is that younger students may not know how to study effectively – since reading helps them learn, it’s logical that this would help their performance.

So, at first look, paying your child for good results sounds like a great idea. But does this come at a cost?

The cons of paying your child for good grades

There are two main types of motivation that influences a persons’ behaviour:

  • Intrinsic motivation – This is when we engage in a behaviour because we find it rewarding.
  • Extrinsic motivation – This is when we do something in the hopes of getting a reward or avoiding a punishment. This is the type of motivation we’re talking about when it comes to paying students for their grades.

So, if students are motivated, then how can this be a bad thing? Well, external rewards can undermine the intrinsic value of education, which has been shown to be almost as important as intelligence when it comes to predicting school achievement. Hindering it can negatively impact your child’s performance and reduce their motivation to become an independent learner.

Another issue occurs when rewards are taken away. This was shown by a study which found that, despite all participants initially enjoying the task, children who expected a reward but did not receive it showed much less interest in the task than those who received an unexpected reward or those who neither expected nor received a reward.

This suggests that paying your child for their grades could decrease their interest in the subject or the learning process.

Maximise your students’ learning and achievement by getting parents & guardians involved in their mindset development.

How can you boost your child’s learning instead?

Some other techniques you can use to help your child revise include:

1. Have high academic expectations

In a meta-analysis, researchers found that having and displaying high expectations were one of the most important things a parent can do to help improve their child’s grades.

High expectations can help children believe that they have the potential to achieve great things, encouraging them to work harder to meet these expectations. And the effects are impressive: one study found that students whose parents expected them to go to university were over five times more likely to do so.

However, it’s also very important to provide support to meet these expectations, to help children develop resilience and overcome any setbacks they might encounter.

2. Get them to revise using Retrieval Practice

Often, students are not motivated to study because they simply don’t know how to. Encourage them to use retrieval practice, one of the most effective revision strategies.

Retrieval practice requires students to generate an answer to a question, which can be done in many ways: doing past papers, testing themselves with flashcards and doing quizzes. It works because recalling previously-learnt knowledge can help students create stronger memory traces and move information to their long-term memory.

3. Minimise procrastination

75% of students see themselves as procrastinators. One way to help your child avoid it is to reduce distractions when they study: encourage them to give you their phone until they’re done, provide them with a tidy studying space away from the TV, or help them make and stick to a study schedule.

Final thoughts

Parents want the best for their child. If a strategy has a chance to help them get better grades, why not try it?

Well, in the case of paying your child for good performance, this seems to only be good idea when used cautiously. The risk may be greater than the potential rewards: used unwisely, it may harm your child’s initial enjoyment of a subject or their intrinsic motivation, causing them to work less hard in the future.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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