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Why paying your kids to do homework deserves a big F

Are you paying your kids to do their homework? Are you enticing the tykes to get all their school-assigned reading done with the promise of a cash reward? If you are, it turns out you're wasting your money. In fact, you're not only wasting you're money, the whole strategy is likely to backfire – badly.

As Time magazine's Francine Russo reports, "the latest studies on paying kids to do academic tasks found a negligible to zero positive effect on their grades, standardized test results and other measures of academic performance."

Russo cites one study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer that compared children rewarded with cash and those who didn't receive any financial incentives in more than 200 schools in three U.S. cities According to Fryer's study, "the impact of financial incentives on student achievement is statistically zero in each city." Another long-term study found cash rewards resulted in slight improvements, but in only in math.

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A small bump in a kid's math scores may not be worth the potential negative consequences of offering kids cash for schoolwork, however.

Doing so can make kids anxious and deal a blow to their self-esteem, says John Woodward, dean of the school of education at the University of Puget Sound in Washington State. "Students focus on grades rather than understanding a subject, and this can make them anxious, as they compare themselves to others," he told Russo.

As well, a cash-for-grades system can alter kids' motivation, making them chase monetary rewards rather than enjoy learning for learning's sake.

And though Russo doesn't put it in these terms, it can also create little brats. As Eileen Kennedy-Moore, co-author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids, told Time, incentivizing kids to do their homework with the promise of money or other material rewards "can lead to a very unattractive bargaining attitude, where kids demand, 'What do I get if I do that?' "

Of course, sometimes cash is seen as a necessary measure in desperate times. One program at a school in Vancouver pays some students just to come to class and meet certain targets, such as getting to class on time and doing their homework.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More


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