As a parent, you may have found yourself striking a deal with your child when it comes to their grades, like giving them a certain amount of cash for every A they receive on their report card. On the surface, it seems like a win-win situation. You’re making sure your child is keeping up with academics, and they get rewarded for their actions.
Providing incentives for good grades is nothing new. However, many psychologists believe that cash or other extrinsic rewards for high academic accomplishments result in poor consequences. Studies have shown that cash rewards have been effective in the short term, but in the long run, it doesn’t really benefit kids.
In fact, it can actually lead to a decrease in academic performance over time. This is because the external rewards do not build internal motivation. They set the stage for negative attitudes toward school, which can carry into adulthood.
Research has proven that placing an emphasis on effort over outcome correlates to increased levels of confidence and perseverance when faced with tasks, including those in the academic sphere. Rewards don’t always work the same way.
According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of the European Economic Association, researchers experimented with monetary incentives for students in their first year of university.
They discovered that the financial rewards had positive effects on high-ability students, while the low-ability students responded negatively. At the end of the experiment, the researchers concluded that external rewards were “detrimental to intrinsic motivation.”
Additionally, a meta-analysis from 2021 published in Perspectives on Psychological Science examined the different types of student motivation. The findings showed that intrinsic motivation was related to student success and well-being, while motivation driven by a desire to avoid punishment or receive rewards resulted in decreased well-being.
The most common concern with using external rewards is that you are handing out prizes for doing what they need to do as a part of life. Unfortunately, as an adult, no one will reward you for doing what you’re supposed to, and it’s best for kids to learn that sooner rather than later.
If you want to recognize your child’s accomplishments and encourage your child to keep up the good work in school, there are some alternatives to cash rewards.