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The Great Parenting Debates

Paying kids to learn

Not long ago Wendy Grolnick and I published an oped in the L.A. Times titled, “Pay to Learn Shortchanges Kids: dozens of studies over 35 years have found that rewarding people for learning backfires.” You can see it at

Paying kids to learn is not a good idea, as our article explains. There are lots of other ways to help kids enjoy learning that don’t involve bribing or paying them. The truth is that kids are born with a desire to learn, and research has shown many ways that parents and teachers can fan the flames of that inner passion. Paying kids isn't one of them.

When there’s so much competition in children’s worlds, it’s hard for a parents and kids alike not to stress out. Sometimes schools and parents fall back on easy but deceptive 'solutions,' like bribing kids. But that's a good way to distract them from the fact that learning is valuable in and of itself. That studying will help them get what they want from life. And that it can make them feel competent and effective in the world. How rewarding are those feelings! And learning can enjoyable, too.

Often it’s the parents who are more anxious and intense than the kids, because we’re so protective of them, and we want the best for our children, because we love them. And anxiety is contagious, so when we hear another parent talking anxiously about tutoring or hiring a private sports coach, we get stressed out! As my friend Joyce says, “When Courtney was in high school I’d listen to other parents talk, and then I’d come home feeling like there was something I wasn’t doing for her, but that I should be doing …but I didn’t know what that something was!”

Parenting is full of joy, but it's also often difficult. Given the anxiety all around us, it can be hard to stay calm and focus on what our children really need. We can encourage kids by letting them know we value learning, by helping them become increasingly competent, by guiding them and giving them the structure they need. Money is an important part of life, but for our kids, it's not part of the learning equation. After all, you want your child to have the inner desire to learn that he or she will need in college, and you don't want to trail behind them, throwing dollar bills at them every time they crack a book!
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