The Parents Yap About Distractions: Are financial incentives the way to go?
All kids - and parents as well! - have their distractions. Is a financial incentive a good way to teach alternate behavior?
Last week it was reported that a father and daughter signed a contract worth $200 for the 14 year old to stay off of Facebook until the end of the school year. How do you handle electronic distractions in your children's lives? Would you pay them to stay away? Money talks, after all. Or do you find the idea of paying cold hard cash for desired behavior to be a little distasteful?
This week, the Parents Yap about what they do to keep their kids focused and if they'd ever pay for it.
When I first heard about the father who was paying his daughter to stay off Facebook for five months, I was outraged. What awful parenting! I thought. Until I realized I’ve basically done the same thing with my kids.
In a recent column concerning punishments and rewards, I referenced iRewardChart, an app I use with my kids. The kids can earn stars for doing chores, and then cash in the stars for cash (or any other reward you choose). You can also use the app to, let’s say, modify negative behaviors. For example, if my younger son doesn’t get up from the table during a meal, he gets a star. Even though I know he should stay put because I told him to do so, my commands mostly fall on deaf ears. He will try to sit through the meal for a star, so it works for me. At $2 for every ten stars earned, it costs me twenty cents. It’s a no-brainer, and I know he’ll eventually get used to sitting through a meal without getting paid, just as it took time for him to get accustomed to getting up from the table for any conceivable reason such as showing his brother how he fell in gym class earlier in the day.
I’ve also used cash to encourage school performance, assigning monetary values for A’s and B’s on report cards. I don’t think this is too unusual.
While I have used money to influence my children’s behavior, I would laugh in their faces if they asked me to pay them to stop playing Minecraft (the younger one) or to not look at Instagram (the older one). I’d solve the problem for them by going into my router settings and changing the password. Temptation gone. Go read a book, play the guitar or piano, or draw me a picture of how sad you are without Internet access.
In the end, parents need to do what works for them. I don’t agree with the dad paying his daughter to stay off Facebook, but maybe he’d think me a fool for doling out cash to my kids for exhibiting proper table manners.
This girl must have some pretty powerful persuasive skills if she got her parents to pay her to stay off Facebook. Good for her! That kid is going places. What surprises me is that her parents agreed to it. What surprises me more is that they applauded her entrepreneurial spirit — and then agreed to it. Sounds more like manipulative, Jedi-mind –trick stuff to me. She couldn’t find a job, so she offered to “work” at not being on Facebook. Soon they’ll be paying her to do her homework and get out of bed in time for school.
I wouldn’t pay my kids to quit something like Facebook —although maybe someone should pay me to stay off it. I think this sets a dangerous precedent for future parent/kid negotiations. “Want me to stop picking on my little brother? That’ll cost you.” “Clean my room? What’s it worth to you?” Ugh. Those parents are going to be dishing out cash for everything they want their kid to do.
We have used lots of “incentives” (bribes … whatever) around here to get our kids to do certain things, but we have never offered to pay our children to do — or not to do —anything. We have used little motivators like sticker charts that led to prizes once they were filled up to get through some transitional periods like potty training or staying in bed at night. They were really just a little push to help the kid take ownership of a skill or behavior that they had to master anyway. The prize was just a little push to get them to their goal. Money wasn’t much of a motivator back then.
Money isn’t much of a motivator for my kids now, either. If my child wanted to earn extra money – and was too young for a “real” job—I would pay them for extra chores or give them a specific job to do. My nine-year old daughter is the only one of my children who is really interested in money at all. I just told her of my idea to pay for extra chores and she is already drawing up a list. I may be in trouble here.
In general, I’d have to take the hard line against paying my children money to break a bad habit or to stop something that had come to claim too much of their time and attention. In the case of the dad who agreed to pay his daughter to stay off Facebook for six months, I’d say that if the daughter wanted the money and the dad was willing to pay it, then what’s it to me?
For those of us who are morally superior, however—I’m joking, people!—for those of us who don’t have the disposable cash to pay our kids to break bad habits or take a step back from addictive activities, there always remains the old-fashioned way of investing time and attention to help your child reform their ways.
I grant that for the Facebook bribe— er, challenge— it was the daughter’s idea to be paid to stop doing something over-consuming, and the point that spending too much time on Facebook is a colossal waste of time, but overall, is not on the same level of other, more destructive vices. Therefore, I don’t really need to get on my highest horse about this. Good for her. Good for the dad.
As for me, I would definitely bristle and then laugh at any of my sons who approached me to propose that his father and I pay him to get control over something he should be managing anyway. My children, like most children, are opportunists to the core. If I paid them to, say, stop aggravating and beating on each other, it would only be a matter of minutes from the first pay out and we’d also have requests to be paid for, say, going to school, or eating their dinner, or bathing occasionally.
Ultimately, my reluctance to indulge this foolishness boils down to selfishness. Is anyone paying me to exercise? Get sufficient amounts of sleep? Not yell at my children? No sirree. No one. Not only does that stink, but I know it’s not rational to expect others to reward me for doing what is good for me or right. And if I did expect it, and managed to get paid to choose the good, then, at least on an academic level, I’m not sure I’d want to be as mercenary as all that, so as to have money as my motivation. I can’t see that lesson leading anywhere good in the long run.
All this being said, when I think of how my son gnaws at his fingernails, I believe that I might be persuaded to pay him to stop. I am a reformed cuticle gnaw-er, myself, and I still regress when I am in stressful situations. It is an unconscious habit and, since his success or failure to cease the nail-biting is empirically verifiable, I feel it could be worth it to strike this kind of deal with him. But for now, I’ll just continue to nag him from across the room to get his hands out of his mouth.
Tasha Schlake Festel
I am cheap. I never pay full price and the most exclusive place I shop on a regular basis is Target. I don't have an extra $200 lying around. But if I did, it wouldn't go to my kids to help them break a silly habit. Nope! I would spend it on a pair of jeans that fit perfectly and could take me from the office to the clubs, if, that is, I worked in an office and went out to clubs and had a need for such jeans. Or I'd splurge and pick up that pair of knee-high black leather boots I've been drooling over for the last 4 years because I can't justify spending that kind of money on fancy high-heeled boots I don't need, just to stand at elementary school pickup, no matter how beautiful the leather is or how great the cut fits my calves.
So no, I would not pay my kids to do - or not do - what I expect of them. I do not reward expected behavior. This is one of the underlying tenets of my parenting philosophy.
There is kind of a gray area called "allowance." Here, I do pay my kids (when I remember) for expected behavior. They live in this house. They wear their clothes. They eat here. They sleep in their beds. I expect them to clean up after themselves, put their clothes away, put their dishes in the dishwasher, and make their beds. It's part of being in this family. However, I shell out cash (when I remember) for these things. It's their only source of income, other than having a birthday or losing a tooth.
Like Melissa, maybe it's the idea of paying someone not to do something that offends me, for lack of a better word. At what point are people held accountable for their own actions? Certainly before age 14, one would hope. If someone is mature enough to realize there is an issue and craft a solution to that issue, he or she should be mature enough to fix it because it's the right thing to do and feel pretty darn good about it afterward.
This makes me think of a larger issue in today's helicopter parenting society that was really brought home by a commercial I heard on the radio for Xfinity home security. The ad talks about how you can keep track of your home - and everyone in it - at any time of the day, just by looking on your mobile device. They play it off like security or as a money-saver because you can remotely turn off those lights you left on in the morning. But let's call it what it really is: spying. And by constantly spying on our kids - and this includes the GPS locators in their mobile phones - we are robbing them of the ability to make good (and bad) decisions and to learn personal responsibility.
My kids, at 7 and 9 years old, are far too young to have Facebook accounts, despite my daughter's incessant asking for one. When can I have one mom? Why am I too young? Whine, whine, whine. However, if my kids found themselves addicted to something like a DS or an iTouch, I'd control their access. Obviously, it's easier to do that than take away the Internet, but I think the same philosophies should apply. Everything in moderation. Demonstrate self-control. Know your limits. Set priorities. Paying someone for a desired behavior is the cheater's way out, for both the parent and the child. It's the easy fix, but really it's just a band-aid.
I get the idea of incentives. In fact, like Gina, I'd love it if someone paid me to stay off of Facebook. Yes, some might suggest that this is what a "job" is, but yeah, yeah. Show me the money. Perhaps I'll bring that up at the next company meeting: employee bonuses for doing work at work. Genius!