My daughter will be studying in South America next semester and because our school years are not aligned she recently wound up with a 10-week break and no one to play with. We agreed on one thing: She couldn't just sit around the house that long. But she couldn't find a temp job either, and so she ended up volunteering with the youth-oriented nonprofit Do Something.
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Now, as she packs for Chile, I'm writing her a check for the weeks she spent as a research volunteer. Am I wrong? Am I sending a signal that nothing is worth doing unless you get paid?
It's a risk, I admit. Yet I'm confident that's not the lesson she'll take away. For one thing, I'm only covering her commuting and lunch costs (an easy call) plus a modest daily rate (a tough call), which amounts to far less than her time is worth; she earned considerably more per hour over the summer as a camp counselor.
Why pay anything more than her costs? Even though the volunteer experience is its own reward she's probably too young to fully appreciate that, and I like to encourage initiative. She couldn't find a job but she did find something constructive to do. A small check from the Bank of Dad will reinforce that core value.
Besides, this is my way of sending her off to foreign lands with a little extra cash without giving her a no-strings handout. She's 21. We don't do those kinds of handouts anymore. A few hundred dollars that she had not budgeted will give her breathing room and hopefully help her make the most of the exciting experience in front of her.
So, as you can see, I am willing to pay my kids to engage in charitable work in some cases - but definitely not all, and probably not even most. Here, though, are five things I will never, ever pay my kids for:
- Grades: This is controversial. Some parents say paying for A's or B's makes their kids study harder and properly links hard work to monetary reward. I disagree. I think it rewards good students for doing what they'd do anyway, and it creates tension and self-esteem issues for kids whose siblings may be much stronger academically.
- Chores: Again, controversial. Money gurus including Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey say it's smart to link household chores to a weekly allowance. It associates work with pay. But I'd rather associate helping around the house with being a contributing member of a family. Paying your son to feed the dog suggests he owes the family nothing. It also disrupts your attempt to teach him how to budget when he fails to do the chore and foregoes the income. That said, I'm all for kids having a chance to earn income beyond their allowance by doing jobs that are not part of their regular responsibility.
- Showing Up: Kids should not be rewarded for going to school, going to Grandma's, going to religious services, or going to a sibling's recital or any other appearance that is simply part of being a kid. What's next? Bribe them to love you?
- Good Behavior: Sorry, you don't get paid to be quiet in the theater or to respect other peoples' property and feelings. It's part of being a well functioning human being.
- Good Deeds: This is different than volunteer work for an organized charity, which is a valuable resume builder and even has an officially recognized worth in dollars and cents: $20.85 per hour, according to Independent Sector. So, as I began by saying, I will definitely pay for volunteerism in some situations. But I will not pay my kids to help an elderly neighbor with the mail, be nice to the unpopular kids at school or mentor a younger student. Some things must come from the heart, and nowhere else.
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