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The Most Effective Incentive To Get Kids Studying Isn’t What You Think It Is

You probably already know that raising a kid is hell on your wallet, but a new study suggests that getting teenagers to participate in after-school programs is better motivated by certificates of recognition than cash incentives. So your bank account might catch a break … just in time to send them off to college.

The study, conducted by Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College Of Education And Human Development, focused on Supplemental Education Services (SEdS), the free after-school tutoring programs that support No Child Left Behind. Researchers randomly selected 300 students, grades 5-8, who were eligible for the programs and assigned them to one of 3 groups: one group was offered $100 for consistent attendance; a second group received a certificate of recognition signed by the superintendent for consistent attendance; and a control group received no incentives for perfect attendance.

The study revealed that those who were awarded a certificate attended almost 43-percent more tutoring hours than those in the control group, while the group with the monetary reward attended just 8-percent more than the control. One of the reasons the certificate incentive worked so well? It was sent home directly to the parents. Unsurprisingly, giving teens the same certificate at school in front of their peers offered less of an incentive, because nobody likes a brown-noser.

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So, the good news is that research is on Team You when it comes to the efficacy of so-called “pay for performance” schemes with your kids. The bad news? Vanderbilt’s research found that certificates of recognition were 25-percent more effective with girls than boys. If you have sons, you might still need to consider bribing them.