Parenting

Is paying your child to do something a bribe or an incentive?

Today's Parent contributer, Marci O'Connor, responds to a story about a father who paid his daughter to quit Facebook for six months.

Photo: hocus-focus/iStockphoto

Last week, a Boston dad arranged to pay his 14-year-old daughter $200 to quit Facebook for six months. He posted a copy of their Facebook Deactivation Agreement and wrote about it on his blog. In it, he agrees to pay his daughter $50 in April and the remaining $150 at the end of June.

His post went viral and received thousands of comments on various news sites. Most people who left comments criticized this arrangement, suggesting that we’re a generation that bribes our kids rather than using these issues as teachable moments. I’m not sure that I agree.

What’s clear is that this dad’s decision has created two very passionate camps: those who see this as an incentive and applaud his efforts, and those that think he’s taken the easy way out, and should be ashamed.

Here’s the thing — I think one thing we can all agree on is that we want our kids to develop good study habits and work ethics. I don’t think we can achieve that by paying them to study or to complete their homework. That type of financial motivation would probably backfire in the long run. But what’s wrong with finding ways to set our kids up for success, by helping them to reduce distractions and focus on the task at hand? That’s how I see this agreement.

When I think about the amount of time (and emotional energy) I spend lurking on Facebook, I applaud Boston Dad for giving his daughter a glimpse of what her daily routine could be like without it. I am a huge advocate of Facebook, but it is undeniably a huge time-waster and a source of distraction. This is not unlike those “bets” we give our toddlers to see how fast they can put away their toys or clean their rooms. Cleaning up the mental clutter and setting aside distractions? Why not? That’s how I see it. At the end of the day, the daughter benefits on several levels: Whether she appreciated it at the beginning or not, she will see that her father cares about how she spends her time and, secondly, she will likely learn a valuable lesson in study habits, work ethic, focusing on the task at hand etc.

Confession: I’ve used money to get my kids to try new foods. I really want them to enjoy my green smoothies, but neither is interested in trying them. They are filled with kale, parsley, ginger, lemon and celery. Individually, my kids like each of these ingredients, but they find the combined look “gross.” So I give them 50 cents each time they try the juice. They both gave up at the $4 mark and I accepted that they really do find this particular combo disgusting. Lesson learned on both sides, though I’m not exactly sure what those lessons are.

Kudos to this dad for even trying to navigate the social media landscape. There is simply no way for him to comprehend what it must be like for a 14-year-old girl to contemplate giving up Facebook for six months. Does he know he’s doing the right thing? Probably not — who does? But I find it endearing that together they drafted and signed this contract. I think it’s clear that he has his daughter’s intentions at heart.

So good for him for trying. And good for her for letting her father be involved in her life at a stage where parents and children can drift apart. Seems to me like they’ve both taken a step in the right direction.

Perhaps they’d like to share a kale smoothie… I’ve got extra…

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