Is it Ever Ok to Bribe your Kids?

Money Falling From the Sky ResizedHow do you get your children to do what you want them to? What do you do to encourage them to do certain things and to refrain from doing other things? Many parents have, at least sometimes, resorted to bribing their children. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Is it ever ok to bribe your kids? New findings reveal some interesting answers to these questions.

First, it would be helpful to figure out what a bribe is (and what it isn’t). Author Ellen Perry points out that there is a continuum to be aware of. Motivation is one one end, and bribing is on the other end. Most people have their own ideas about what is clearly motivational and what is a flat-out bribe. Perry points out that the middle of that continuum is “muddier”.

Here is an example. Your child has homework to do, but would prefer to start playing video games. You tell your child that he or she must finish the homework first. You offer the child the opportunity to play video games after finishing all their homework. Is this motivation, or is it a bribe?

Perry suggests that this is actually a bribe. However, she notes that it is the type of bribe that most people would consider to be “standard parental practice”. My interpretation of this is that one could see the video games as a reward for finishing homework.

You are getting your child to do something he is not intrinsically motivated to do (homework) by offering something the child is very motivated to do (play video games) after the homework is done. Doing so is unlikely to change your child’s opinion of homework (and may cause him or her to speed through it).

Some parents pay their children a certain amount of money for every A they get on a report card. Is this motivation, or is it a bribe? There is something about handing your kids money as a form of motivation that makes it feel like a bribe.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? A survey done by investment managers T. Rowe Price found that 48% of parents admitted to bribing their children. The real number might be even higher (because not all parents who bribe their kids are going to feel comfortable admitting it.) In parents who self-classified as “spenders” – the percentage jumped to 55%.

Overall, it appears that is isn’t really the bribe itself that matters the most. It is how parents use it. The idea is to use the money (or treat, or toy, or whatever) in a teachable moment.

For example, a parent who offers his or her child money for good grades could turn that into a lesson on saving, spending, or giving to charity. Parents need to have a direct conversation about finances, and what to do with the money, in order to have a positive impact on their child.

There are some parents who will bribe their children, with money, in order to influence the child to go away for a while so the parent can read the newspaper. This is definitely a bribe, and it is a bad one. It also is not good to constantly be using bribes as a means to control your children’s behavior. Ideally, parents should use a bribe sparingly – not as the go-to course of action.

Image by 401(K)2012 on Flickr.

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* Reward Points for Kids

* Rewards

* Should I Bribe My Son To Behave?

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