Do you know the going rate for GCSE Biology revision? What’s a book review worth to a 12 year old? These are the sorts of questions some parents are asking themselves as they look for ways to motivate their kids to do homework. Purists and old school types might argue that the whole idea of paying children for education is wrong. It’s a tricky path to navigate though. In a world where an imaginary fairy leaves five pounds (we kid you not, we know of this) for the mere act of a tooth falling out, rewarding your children for doing something substantial, like algebra, should be no big deal.
Aside from the headache of figuring out the cost of various subjects on the Homework Market, there are certainly gains to be made for busy and exhausted parents who choose to reward their children. If you’ve spent a day at the office trying to move stubborn colleagues towards a decision, you really don’t want to come home and sell the Renaissance to an unwilling teenager. What’s wrong with offering them some money as a little motivation? Parents who choose this path argue that it’s not bribery but incentivisation. “We’re teaching a child that work gets rewarded,” they’ll say. “It’s a good lesson for the future.” Their ultimate justification is that they’ll do whatever it takes to see their kids succeed. And, in an era where internships are bought at auction by well-heeled parents, it doesn’t seem so wrong to pay for homework.
One danger in the reward scenario is that homework is being set up as a chore – a negative task – rather than something that is inherently positive. By offering to pay for it, you’re making it something to endure, in much the same way as eating broccoli is rewarded by something sugary. You might think that monetary value makes the homework more valuable but you have to remember we’re talking about the teenage brain here. Remember, it does not work the same way as yours, is prone to rapid hormonal fluctuations and is subject to peer group influence.
So what could you do?
- Praise them. “I’m really proud of you for sticking with it. I know it was hard,” can show you empathise
- Include homework as part of family routine. Don’t send them off to their room. Instead, sit at the kitchen table and do something while they do their homework
- Help out with projects and show interest. That way they are more likely to see that it’s worth doing than if you don’t
- Parents have to realise lack of academic motivation is pretty normal. Your child is not bad or headed for disaster because he or she is not jumping up and down about homework: he or she is just doing what many kids do. Remind yourself that most children don’t like doing homework and keep perspective. Plus schools are quite intense places these days and kids can genuinely be tired
- Teens should deal with the consequences of homework not completed. By that we mean that stepping in all the time to protect them from a disappointed teacher is not a good idea. After the age of 13 they are more than capable of knowing what to do
And finally, a reward is not a bad thing. Notice we didn’t say bribery. That’s because it’s different. Rewarding your kids with their favourite meal out or an iTunes voucher is a nice way to say 'good stuff' and can make both of you feel good. If you're worried about putting a price on homework and would like to avoid it, this might be the way to go. In any case, your individual values will decide how you play this one and as always with teenagers, there isn't going to be one right answer. Frankly, if it was that easy to motivate children to do homework, it would've been figured out long ago.