You’re parenting a teen, and you’ve just had a fantastic idea for him or her. Something that could pay off in huge ways down the line. But your kid isn’t interested. “Nah,” he says, scrunching up his nose and shaking his head. “Not gonna do that.” Meanwhile, he’s playing video games for hours each day. What can you do to motivate your kid to read a book that will transform his 20’s, or fill out scholarship applications, or happily attend a one-morning college study skills class? Is it a good idea to pay your teen to do these things?
Is it wise to pay your teen to do things she refuses to do otherwise?
Yes, yes, YES.
Especially because you can do this while spending less money on your kid than you are right now. Try this entertaining strategy, one that other parents are using with great success.
How to pay your teen to do things, while spending less on him than you are right now.
1. Give your son a meager allowance.
Make sure it’s not quite enough to cover his bare minimum life expenses. Set up an automatic bank transfer so that this amount goes into his bank account reliably, every two weeks.
2. List for your son all the purchases this money will have to cover.
“Son, we’ll expect you to use this allowance money to buy all your own school lunches, cell phone service, clothes, shoes, gas, football fees, school activities, and all your personal spending.” Add anything else to this list you can think of.
3. Then, wait for an emergency.
Teenage son: “Mom! Prom tickets are only available through Friday, and I forgot to buy mine! Can you please lend me $150 until the 15th?”
Mom: “Oh no! You’re out of money and can’t afford prom tickets? That’s awful! Emily will be so disappointed if you have to call off prom. I’d say this calls for breaking into your emergency fund!”
Teenage son: “Mom, I, uh—I don’t have an emergency fund. I haven’t saved up for that yet. Could you please just lend me $150? Just until the 15th?”
Mom (genuinely sad for him and wanting to help): “Well, I can’t allow you to incur debt for that. We don’t believe in debt in this family. But how about this? I will pay you $25 for every hour you sit in the living room and read The Defining Decade by Dr. Meg Jay! Or, I’ll pay you $75 to attend the Screenagers documentary with me, and talk with me about it for 30 minutes afterward! Or I’ll pay you $50 for every scholarship application you fill out in a quality manner. Or I’ll pay you $100 to attend a one-morning college success seminar with me! Look, here’s the description of it. It looks fantastic. What do you think?”
4. You can happily pay your teen to do these things, even if your income is low, for this reason.
The very meager allowance you’ve given him means that you’re currently paying far less for his weekly and monthly expenses than you were a year ago. You can use some of the money you’re saving to pay your teen to do the big things you want him to do.
5. And what if your child refuses to do the daily chores you’ve assigned? This system helps with that too.
When you discover a chore left undone after your child has gone to bed at night, just cheerfully do it yourself. When you finish, subtract $5.00 from your child’s meager allowance to compensate you for your time. Just remember to be empathetic and sad when you let your child know this the next day. As we learn in the very valuable book Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, nothing works without the empathy!
6. Consider starting this system soon after your child finishes 9th grade.
Do so, and you’ll allow your son or daughter to learn valuable money management skills that will pay off for decades into the future. You’ll have leverage you can use to motivate your teens to do things that will help their futures. You’ll free yourself from having to respond to whiny requests for money every day, because your reply to every request will be, “Sure! Sounds fun! If you’ve got enough money to pay for that, I’m all for it!”
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For more detailed information on this “pay your teen” strategy, read chapter 11 of my book:
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Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1–3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it.
And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it—especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.
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What about you?
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Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, podcast host, and sought-after speaker for students ages 12–26 and their parents and grandparents. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, NerdWallet, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.