Editor's note: The following is a revised version of a column published in June 2012.
During the summer is a good time to ponder how we can motivate our kids to get better grades next school year than they did this past year. Let us tell you a little story:
A few years ago, our daughter had one of those friends that you wish would move to Wisconsin or somewhere else far away. This little eighth-grade buddy was always saying things we wished our daughter Saydi wouldn’t hear, giving her ideas we wished she hadn’t thought of and bragging about things she could do that we didn’t allow Saydi to do.
One day, she told Saydi that she got $100 for every A on her report card, and Saydi, of course, brought it to our immediate and urgent attention.
We had always had a thing against paying for grades. It was not a part of our family culture, and it seemed like such an artificial motivation and a bad substitute for an understanding of the lifetime “real value” of education.
But it sounded pretty good to Saydi.
We thought about it for a couple of days and sort of blundered on to an answer that actually worked beyond our expectations.
I started looking up studies I had heard about regarding education-based variables in people’s earning potential and found that in that particular year, the median annual income (in round numbers) for people without a high school degree was $25,000. For those with a high school degree it was $35,000, for those with a college degree it was $56,000 and for those with a professional graduate degree it was more than $100,000.
I shared these numbers with Saydi, and we talked about the connections between grades and getting into colleges, getting into really good colleges and going to graduate school. She must have done a little thinking about it, because from the back seat of the car pool a few days later, I heard this conversation:
Saydi: How much is it that you get for every A?
Friend: $100. How much do you get?
Saydi: Well, I actually get like $75,000 every year for the rest of my life if I get mostly A’s.
Her explanation of that to her friend was not very complete, and I’m not sure the friend got it. But the point is that Saydi got it, and her motivation for working for good grades was based on real numbers from the real world rather than on some form of parental bribery.
And it was also kind of fun to hear her little know-it-all friend become fairly speechless for once in her life.
Of course, ownership of education is about much more than grades. Helping children to love learning itself and to see education as a process of self-discovery and of recognizing their aptitudes and gifts so they can build on them for their college major and their career — these are the real measurements of educational success and the real areas where we want our children to feel ownership.
And the point is that discussions about the true worth of education end up working much better than paying kids for grades.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks .com or www.valuesparenting.com.