A study released last month indicates that U.S. children receive from parents an average of $1,360 each year in the form of allowances, rewards and incentives. The study, which was conducted by coupon brand Vouchercloud, found that 71 percent of the parents of 5- to 10-year-olds give their children money regularly. More strikingly, 55 percent of the group who give money to their children said that they have paid their children “bribes” to get them to be good. What's wrong with giving children a financial incentive to behave well? Ingrid Higgins, a marriage and family therapist at Campbell Teen and Family Therapy in Campbell, California, says that paying children this way can send the wrong message about good behavior. “I do not believe that children should have money as an incentive for good behavior,” writes Higgins in an email to MoneyRates.com. “Good behavior is expected in a household and not something you get paid for.” Higgins' response echoes the views of numerous child psychologists who have said that bribes are a flawed means of influencing children's behavior. Perhaps the most often cited problem with this approach is that it can lead children to believe that money is the only worthwhile reason to behave.
A too-simple fix for behavior problems
It's easy to see how parents could be tempted into offering their children money for behaving: It's simple to do and it may be effective in the short term. But the lessons people take from childhood can affect how they see money - and the value of good behavior - throughout their lives. Thus parents may wish to explore options for changing behavior that won't lead their offspring to expect money simply for being good. Dr. Marilee Ruebsamen, a psychologist in San Jose, California, says that there are numerous ways to help children develop better behavioral habits, but the best ones depend on parents knowing their children and the rewards that matter most to them.