Saturday, 8 January 2011

Should you offer "incentives" to your children to get good grades?

No 1 son is in his final year of school. He has a GCSE English exam on Monday and 3 more this month before taking the rest in the Summer.

All through his school life he has been credited with being bright, but perhaps not applying himself as well as he should. Over the years I just kept thinking, he has plenty of time to settle down, he's only 7, 11, 13! But well now, like all things in life crunch time is upon us! Where did all those years go?

Last night he came home from his girlfriend's house and casually advised me that he really did need a copy of 1984 for his exam next week! What! Why has it taken until now to occur to you that it was about time you found your "lost" copy! Of course, it was my entire fault, he told me ages ago. I vaguely remember a conversation in passing about 6 months ago, I think... I'm not getting into this conversation, past experience tells me I am doomed if I do and doomed if I don't with teenagers.

Said book located, we got down to serious talks about revision. Seems it has been happening, although I don't see much evidence of it. I then found myself (after several glasses of a very nice red) telling him that if he gets good grades he can have an iphone! There, it slipped out! How could I try to bribe my child! What example am I setting him! Am I insulting him, by assuming that he would try harder to do well if there was something in it for him? What if he tells his mates he's getting an iphone, and they tell their parents or the teachers find out? Oh! The shame of it. I'll never be able to look Mrs A in the face again!

Also, what if he doesn't achieve the grades? What do I do then? and it’s his 16th Birthday at the beginning of June. Do I give him the iphone then, before the results come out? Why am I talking about iphones, I could never afford one. OMG!....

When I think back to my school days and the O levels I sat, all I can remember is sitting for hours in my bedroom reciting into a tape recorder my notes and playing them back over and over again. Even falling asleep listening to my voice droning on and on. No incentive from my mother and my major concern on the day of the biggest exam of my life was my "shaggy" perm had gone disastrously wrong and I looked more like a poodle !


  1. Good question! In an ideal world you wouldn't have to bribe teenagers to revise for exams but I think often they do need an incentive like that. They'll soon realise that life doesn't work like that normally but as a parent you really want to give them the best start you can.
    The only problem I can see here (other than affording an iphone) is what happens if he works really hard but doesn't achieve the high grades you were both after. Should he lose out even if he did his very best!
    Oh so much to think about.

  2. Thank you for your comment and I thought the same thing after I published this post. On reflection I think my problem is not so much him achieving straight A's, its the fact that he HAS the ability and he is not trying hard enough. If he was not upto it, but tried really hard that would be good enough for me. I suppose I get frustrated with teachers saying he is capable of so much but is lazy in class. But then is that putting additional pressure on him if he feels its not the case ?

  3. Gosh. I don't envy you!!! In some ways it prepares him for real life - try hard AND deliver results and you get a raise / bonus / promotion. That said, those sorts of incentives don't work as well as regular intangible incentives, you know, praise, spending time together etc. Also it probably means he'll get the grades but not remember a thing afterwards.
    Maybe you could revise *with* him, have a quiz night or something to make it fun. Watch 1984 and a few other films along those lines together & have a chat about what it all means, talk about it in the context of reality TV, etc.
    Good luck!

  4. I don't think you'll be sending out the wrong message. The working world is full of incentives, bonus schemes and other benefit which you can achieve for doing your job slightly better.

    If he does knuckle down and gets the grades, he will have gained a lot more then an iphone.

    As someone who didn't get the grades due to lack of application, do what you can because what he learns now about revision etc will go into his A-levels and Uni.

  5. Thank you mumversuskids I did offer to watch the film with him but he brushed me away. TOO COOL for that. I do try to give him time at night when everyone else is in bed, this is when he opens up. I worry that I don't really know my child thse days. He has grown up so fast, I always seem to say the wrong thing to him. I guess, we are always learning throughout our lives. I just want him to learn from my mistakes but then I never listened to my mother when I was 15 : )

  6. Thank you Oli, its true about incentives in business. I felt afterwards that maybe I went about it the wrong way and just added to the pressure he is feeling. He doesn't show how he is feeling much these days but he got really upset and said he was trying his hardest, which is contrary to what his teachers are saying. I think I am more confused than him. Boo !

  7. Hi Karen, as a Mum to a nearly 15 year old Son I really can sympathise with you. They grow up into these moody teenagers and are unwilling to discuss with us what they think and feel. It's really not cool to hang out with Mum and god forbid we try to help them.

    The trouble is what we have to remember is the fact that they are 15, when I think back to when I was that age the most important thing to me was would that boy I fancied in the other form realise if I walked past him enough times and how unfair my mum was for not letting me wear mascara to school. You know they do not have a clue how important these exams are to them because in my opinion they are far to young to comprehend these things.

    We just have to do our best and try to encourage them, and if that means a little bribe along the way then I'm all for it. Believe you me If I thought for one minute my Son would knuckle down to his school work by offering him an iphone If he did well in his exams I WOULD, but you know he's that laid back even the offer of an iphone whouldn't spur him on :-)

    I Keep telling myself that he has a lifetime of learning ahead of him and when he is mature and realises how important these things are he can pick up where he left off...well if I didn't I'd be tearing my hair out!

    Good luck


  8. Thanks Carole, its really helpful to have the view of another mum with a 15 yr old boy. I think you are so right, as I say in my post my main concern at that age was my perm ! But I did realise too late that I should have tried harder and just want him to benefit from my hindsight. Of course he won't !!!

  9. I think we do try to bargin with our children. I know I do it in the supermarket, etc. If your good and sit nice you can get a sweetie or a wee toy. But they aren't the same thing when it comes to exams and an iPhone. I personally don't think there was anything wrong with what you did other than the expense. This is a tough one, sorry I'm not much help here. Hugs x

  10. This is a good post which I can relate to--I have a 16 year old (step) son and am very much a part of his upbringing. We too have been told 'very bright boy, does nothing in class.' Argh!!! It is soooo frustrating. We leave him alone for an evening of revision and come in the room to see him on facebook. I have no idea how to motivate him. I just keep thinking of my own step brother who similarly mucked around until he was in his 20s then the penny dropped and he suddenly started to work hard and now owns a thriving business. Perhaps you're right, it will happen one day...!!! Maybe they just have to find their own motivation.

  11. Hi Susan, thanks for taking the time to comment sweetie. I am still kicking myself about the iphone comment. xx

  12. Thank you for commenting Michelle, Its really good to have comments from other parents of son's the same age. It is really hard to know how to encourage them without being told that you are "nagging" them. I must admit I feel better today now that the first exam is out of the way, he certainly seems a bit more relaxed although he did admit to being very nervous before the exam started. I asked him if he felt he was properly prepared for it now that it was over and he replied that yes, he felt he had done enough. I can't ask for more than that. xx



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