Teens & chores: are privileges bribes?-River City Counseling

A common question I hear from parents is:  should I pay and/or give my child special privileges for doing chores and/or getting good grades?

When it comes to chores, kids should be expected to do certain tasks, just because they’re part of the family.  I’ve worked with families who pay their children for every chore they do, no matter how small.  Aside from it being extremely complicated to administer, it gives kids the message that they should expect to get something for everything they do.  And life doesn’t work this way…

At the same time, it’s appropriate to reward kids for larger tasks.  (It’s up to you to decide what’s large enough.)  Be very specific on what these tasks are.  Don’t simply tell your child to do the yard work.  Instead, tell them your expectations for what to do (e.g. mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, weeding the flower beds, etc.) and show them how you expect things to be done.

Once you’ve rewarded your child for tasks done well, supervise how the money is spent.  First, mandate that a percentage of what they earn goes into savings, either for college or a long-term purchase, such as a car.  This teaches kids the importance of delayed gratification; you don’t always get what you want, when you want it.  But if you set goals and make good decisions on an ongoing basis, eventually you’ll get what you want.

Then continue to monitor how the rest of the money is spent.  You have the right to veto purchases that you find inappropriate (e.g. violent video games.)  If you hear the “It’s my money and I’ll do what I want with it!” argument, gently remind them that you still have a say in what they buy.  (And in the case of video games, remind them that they’re still using the electricity you paid for to power the games they play…)

A common concern I hear from parents is that they’re not willing to bribe their kids by paying them to do things they already should be doing.  As much as I understand their point, it’s worth looking at this from different perspectives.  First, a bribe is something you get BEFORE doing what you’re asked to do.  While a reward/extra privileges come AFTER doing what you’re asked to do.

If children get something before they do what they’re supposed to, they have little incentive to complete the task.  On the other hand, if they know that they’re going to get something they want after completing a task, they’ll be more likely to do it.  So hold off on giving them their privileges until after they complete the task.

I also wonder how being paid/getting special privileges for doing larger tasks is so different from adults earning a regular paycheck.  After all, if you do what you’re supposed to do at work, you get paid.  Is it all that much different when your kids are paid for work they’re asked to do?

When it comes to academics, it’s acceptable to reward children for good grades.  It can be a certain amount (or special privileges) for every “A” and a bit less for every “B.”   (For kids who are more challenged academically, the scale should be adjusted.)  By “A’s” and “B’s” I mean grades earned at the end of the term.  Don’t reward your child for every grade earned for homework and quizzes.  Not only would you need a full-time admin to keep track day-to-day, but you’d also go broke along the way.

In a perfect world, our kids would be perfect.  They’d do what we asked when we ask them.  But the reality is that teens don’t always do things satisfactorily, on their own, without incentives.  Yet, when they’re motivated by privileges, it’s magical how quickly and well they can complete tasks.


12 Responses to Teens & chores: are privileges bribes?-River City Counseling
  1. elizabeth
    March 26, 2013 | 4:59 pm

    Very practical advice. It helps kids not to be lazy by getting them used to working around the house. Also it makes the kids have a more helping spirit especially when the parents praise the children for their efforts. And in society you have to learn to make money to survive.

    Another possibility would be to have the family do charitable, or environmental projects to benefit others. Scouts can foster this” doing for others” spirit as well as church groups. Also if parents are community minded and kind and helpful to others, children hopefully will develop this kind of character also.

    • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
      March 27, 2013 | 3:48 am

      Good points Elizabeth. To piggyback on what you’re saying, I also advocate for parents to encourage their kids to give a small percentage of what they earn to a charitable cause they choose.

      • Tomomi
        April 10, 2013 | 11:55 am

        Hi Steve,Thanks for writing about an imarotpnt issue. Tell your teens that they’re asking good questions, but you’re not going to answer them, is a great suggestion. When I was young my parents would simply lie, that is, they would deny having had any experience with alcohol, sex etc., and that simply shut down any opportunities for learning.

  2. Ramesh
    March 26, 2013 | 5:36 pm

    Nice counsel, but there appears to be a danger of making kids too materialistic through such rewards system. The reward therefore need not necessarily be in terms of money alone. Simple timely and genuine praise in public could be enough to raise self-esteem of children. Often times monetory rewards may be appropriate through a pre-designed behavioural contract between parents and childern so as to appreciate dignity of labour and inculcate wise savings and investment/consumption practices.

    • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
      March 27, 2013 | 12:27 am

      Hi Ramesh:

      Well said. Thank-you for furthering the conversation and providing a good reminder for me. You’re right, verbal praise is often much more powerful than getting any “goodies.” With long-term goals like grades, it’s difficult to have the promise of being praised be enough of an incentive. Promises of monetary gifts and/or special privileges are much more effective.

  3. christina
    March 27, 2013 | 8:14 pm

    Wow, Steve, this is really great stuff! You should write parenting book for those of us who struggle raising kids, since you have so much wisdom to offer. I usually let my kids buy whatever they want with the money they earn, even buying junk food and violent video games. I also do pay them for every job they do. It didn’t occur to me that maybe I could rethink this. Thanks!!

  4. Elva Anson
    April 10, 2013 | 4:37 pm

    Great subject and very important in teaching children to manage themselves. Children who do not get allowances are at a disadvantage when it comes to managing money. So few opportunities to work for money are available to children today. I believe that is unfortunate. I have a chapter in my book, “How to Get Kids to Help at Home” devoted to this subject.

  5. Tom
    April 10, 2013 | 6:32 pm

    Terrific advice here. Right in line with what seems to work. I like the idea of rewarding kids with things other than money. Sometimes we allow them to pick a family movie to watch as a reward. We also give our daughter a small allowance to teach her how to use money. Some is spent, some is saved, some is given to charity as other have suggested, but we also get a say in how it is spent. If she does not keep up on her chores, the money gets spent paying someone else to clean up, leaving her no allowance. I’ve only had to threaten that once but it was effective.

  6. Eman
    April 10, 2013 | 8:49 pm

    This is very good, however, would not this help in making them materialistics? That they might do this for the money, mainly?

    • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
      April 11, 2013 | 1:14 am

      Eman, good question. My hope is that kids don’t do things only for the money. It’s our job as parents to instill and model a sense of satisfaction with a job well-done, regardless of tangible rewards (i.e. money.) I believe that not all jobs completed should be rewarded with money. Sometimes, kids just do things because they’re expected to as members of the family. When I’m talking about financial incentive, I’m talking mainly about larger jobs.

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    April 11, 2013 | 3:24 am

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  8. Rinkal
    March 1, 2016 | 4:07 am

    I’m so glad to read your response, bauscee a few of the family members decided to let my brother go to another brother’s house out of state. Okay, I mean we called my little brother and asked him to take one for the team. We let my mean brother know that we wouldn’t be abused by him at holidays any more.We’ve put up with the abuse forever, so we actually feel pretty good about being proactive and not letting him spoil our Christmas.He was mad at first, but we explained that we love him, and we’re not happy about having to make the decision, and he seemed to be okay with that.Hopefully, maybe Easter, we can get together as a family without all of his drama. I’ll keep my fingers crossed!

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