Attention Parents: It’s Okay to Bribe Your Kids

It's ok to bribe your kids | The Champagne Supernova

The cutie pie in this picture is my friend’s son, Andrew. He is five years old and in Pre-Kindergarten. My friend told Andrew’s older sister she would buy her a $50 toy if she got all 300 of her sight words correct. Andrew asked if that counted for him as well, so my friend agreed. Andrew worked really, really hard to achieve his goal and got all of his 300 sight words correct. Look how proud he is in this picture. Go, Andrew, Go! And go, mama, go! You gotta do what you gotta do and figure out what works for kids.

It’s not every day I get inspired by the MTV show My Super Sweet 16.

For those of you who have never seen it, it’s a reality show that follows privileged fifteen year-old girls and their friends as they obsessively plan their Sweet 16 parties.

These parties are often over-the-top and are the equivalent of hosting a wedding. Ornate invitations. Hundreds of guests. Famous DJs providing the entertainment. Hoochie mama gaudy dresses. Hairdressers and makeup artists. Behind-the-scenes drama.

More often than not, watching the show is like watching a train wreck.

The girls are typically spoiled brats who use the parties as ways to exclude their “friends” and show off their parents’ assets.

Money can’t buy class.

One episode especially stood out to me. It aired seven or eight years ago, which was before I had children of my own. I don’t remember the details but, in general, it followed a New Jersey family as they were planning their daughter’s Super Sweet 16 party.

What was more “controversial” about this episode is that the girl’s father told his daughter he would buy her a BMW for her 16th birthday (in addition to throwing her the party) if she got straight A’s in high school.

In other words, this promise started her freshman year when she stepped foot into high school and continued through her birthday when she was a junior.

Many of this father’s friends and family were appalled that he would “bribe” his daughter into earning good grades. It created a hot debate.

The girl ultimately earned the BMW. This was even after taking difficult honors classes like chemistry, calculus, and physics (and acing them) while being involved with extracurricular activities and volunteering in the community.

And here’s another thing that stood out: the girl was probably the most level-headed person to ever be featured on the show. She was popular for the right reasons as she was kind and inclusive to others. She was outgoing and funny. She worked hard in school and respected adults. Other than the controversy on the show surrounding the car purchase, there was no drama.

You know what?

Her parents did something right. Who cares if they had to incentivize or “bribe” her? She learned difficult material, performed well, and was rewarded for it.

(Side note: I got my first car in 1998 when I turned 16. It was no BMW. Instead, it was a 1988 Ford Escort hatchback my Dad bought from someone who was selling it off the side of the road for $1,500 cash. It didn’t have air conditioning and the entire vehicle jolted when I hit 35 m.p.h., but I was grateful for the freedom this car provided to me. It died after about 8 months.)

Incentivizing your kids doesn’t mean you have to buy them a BMW or even a $50 toy at Target.

It can be anything.

A hand full of M&Ms. A $5 fidget spinner (it pained me to write that, but y’all know what I mean). Cake at a birthday party for good behavior. A free activity like going to the park or playing with friends after school.

Incentive. Blackmail. Inducement. Perk. Reward. Bribery. Allurement.

Whatever you want to call it, I am all for it in the parenting arena.

Like it or not, the world runs off of incentives and there isn’t any shame in letting kids experience this early in their lives.

We are all incentivized, even as adults.

My boss bribes me with a paycheck and bonuses.

I am incentivized into driving carefully and not speeding because I don’t want a ticket.

Feeling good and being healthy is my reward for hitting the gym on mornings I would rather sleep in. Or for eating the carrot when I really want bacon.

I am bribed to earn money so I can provide for my family.

You have to figure out what motivates your kids and then do it. The reality is that most children aren’t going to be excited to learn sight words or earn high grades just for the sake of doing it. And if you have one of those children, then good for you! But that’s not all of us.

(Another side note: I was one of those self-motivated children who never earned a B until middle school. I cried for two weeks. You’re welcome, Mom and Dad. I wish this type of motivation would have pushed me through high school and college, where I cared more about socializing than learning the material. Different post for a different day.)

This morning I told my daughter that if she successfully read her reading (“Razz”) book to her teacher, then she could get a popsicle after gymnastics this afternoon.

(My car is already a mess, so why not?)

She was stoked and it encouraged her to practice her book a couple more times before she got out of my car in the school drop-off line.

Incentives are part of life.

Do you have any creative ways to incentivize your children? Leave them in the comments.



    4 Comments on Attention Parents: It’s Okay to Bribe Your Kids

    1. Monica Gomez
      October 26, 2017 at 12:06 am (5 years ago)

      I’m friends with a child behavioral therapist and she just did a blog post on this too. So she said it is “bribery” if you as the parent give into the prize prior to its completion. If, however, the child finishes said task and receives the prize, it’s called a reinforcement. So it sounds like what we are all doing as parents is the latter! And it works so yay for all of us. I feel less guilty knowing an expert says it’s a great tool! Ps I had a similar car that cost $500 and died in four months. Haha

      • jenniferdaku
        October 26, 2017 at 10:17 am (5 years ago)

        Thanks for the input, Monica. Giving the prize before the task is completed also tells the child that the parent isn’t going to follow through with what they say they will do. So the child will continue to not fulfill the task knowing the parent will give him or her the prize regardless. Whole new can of worms. And with the car, I guess you get what you pay for.

    2. Erica Price
      October 25, 2017 at 11:39 am (5 years ago)

      Call it bribery, call it reward, call it what you like, if it achieves results and doesn’t turn your child into a brat then I’m all for it. We have used it a number of times in the past and I am sure we will in the future too.

    3. Rhiannon D'Averc
      October 25, 2017 at 10:19 am (5 years ago)

      Hell, I bribe myself to get through work and exercise almost every day, so why not kids too? It teaches them that hard work leads to rewards! Actually, I had a bet with my Dad when I was 9 and started karate lessons that I could get my black belt before I was 16. He said if I could, he’d pay me £100. Guess what? I got it the month before my 16th birthday just so I could win that bet. It works!