Allowance for Teens… Respecting the Almighty Dollar (Part 2)

Tips on Teens #025b

In last month’s Tips on Teens article, Allowance for Teens… Respecting the Almighty Dollar (Part 1) we discussed the intricacies of why it is important to have your teenager EARN an allowance and what it can teach him.  Here is Part 2 where we explore how to effectively set up a system where your kid earns his allowance, learns to demonstrate greater responsibility and hopefully help you reduce the nagging and unnecessary arguments that get in the way of being a happy family.

Wait a minute!  I’ve heard that allowance shouldn’t be tied to chores or any other responsibilities.  It should just be separate; otherwise it sends the message that kids should only help out around the house for MONEY instead of it being the “right thing to do.”

It really depends upon your family dynamic.  You know your teenager better than anybody else does, and giving an allowance is not the solution to every fight or disagreement.  

First and foremost, the main purpose of setting up an allowance is to help your kids learn about financial accountability.  This article is not meant to encourage you to start implementing an allowance for bribery purposes.  Some of you will give allowance for the sole purpose of allowing your teen to learn how to use her money wisely.  Some of you will give allowance based on completing certain tasks.  The parameters are for you to decide.  

I do agree that kids should learn how to contribute their fair share around the house and to understand the value of having the family act as a team.  Even when there are opposing schedules and you feel like the members of your family are like ships passing in the night, it’s an important lesson for your child to know how she directly affects the daily operations of the house.

For those parents who are so darn tired of the nagging and arguing with their kids about chores or homework, and it is becoming detrimental to the parent/child relationship, then giving allowance in exchange for completing those expectations may be what works for you.  A mutually agreed upon structure where allowance is earned can often significantly reduce those arguments, creating more tension-free time and richer opportunities to form stronger connections with your kids.  If your kids are fairly compliant with household responsibilities, then there may be no need to tie allowance to chores or homework.

comic showing how different chores will help teen earn money and learn responsibilityBut won’t my kid only do what he’s paid for and refuse to do the other odds and ends that it takes to be in a family?  I’m afraid that he will try to extort me for every little thing that is expected of him if we go down this road.

I find that most kids don’t fall into that black-and-white / all-or-nothing thinking about chores.  Often times, kids will become more dependable with helping out around the house when they actively accept responsible in other areas.  However, if your son is heading down the road of blackmailing you for any and all family obligations, then there is likely a deeper issue going on that needs to be addressed.  There may be a lack of connection and trust between the two of you that needs to be repaired.  Allowance alone won’t fix that.  In this situation, perhaps getting outside help from a counselor or a religious leader whom both of you respect to bridge the gap and heal any rift that is present.

But isn’t this just bribing my kid to do chores?

If allowance is your answer to see any kind of contribution on her end, then think of it more as a reward, which is different than a bribe.  A reward is something earned.  Something that is fair and reasonable.  A bribe is when you feel extorted, taken for granted, pressured, bullied and just plain icky about giving it.  If the allowance is given under these strained emotions then resentment will quickly build on your end and your child comes out ahead with a new tactic for driving you crazy.  When handled with respect and honesty, both you and your teen should feel good about the exchange.  It should feel like a Win-Win situation.  If it feels unbalanced or forced, then take the time to re-examine and re-negotiate the agreement.  Being able to re-negotiate means a few simple yet powerful things are happening:

  1. You are showing your kid that you are open and flexible to hear new ideas.
  2. You value and respect the promises you have made to each other.
  3. You are actively showing your child the benefits of re-examining past choices.
  4. Her happiness with these new compromises is important to you.

It’s also important to remember that the terms will change because kids grow up and can take on more responsibilities. Your open acknowledgment of your teen growing up and being capable of accepting more challenges over time will empower both of you.

So how do I dole out this allowance effectively?  How does my son EARN his allowance?

Payday should be once a week at a specific time and you should always have exact change ready.  It is important for you to set the example by being consistent and punctual because you’re going to expect the same from your teenager.  In other words, you’ve got to hold yourself to the same standards you want to hold for your teen.  You can’t just talk the talk… you’ve got to walk the walk!

Let’s assume for argument’s sake (and for simple math) that you have determined that a reasonable allowance is $20 each week.  Think of his allowance as a commission-based salary.  For every responsibility achieved, there is financial compensation.

Cool your jets, Turbo!  Does that mean that I have to pay her for every little thing she does? 

No, choose up to five things each day that you really want done on a regular basis (perhaps the things you’re most tired of nagging about). Examples could be cleaning the kitty litter box, brushing her teeth, making her bed, taking out the trash, etc.  This works best when the two of you pick tasks that can be tracked routinely. 

For every chore there should be an exact time deadline.  Otherwise, you will find yourself in the unenviable position of having your teen indignantly saying something like:

MOM!  Lay off me already.  I know I have to make my bed today.  It’s exactly 11:52pm… I still have eight minutes left in TODAY!  I was just about to do it after I finished FaceTimeing with my friends.  I was going to make my bed and then afterwards I was going to pull the sheets back down and go to bed.  But since you’re nagging me, I can’t finish my conversation on time so I won’t get it done today and it’s all your fault!  Why can’t you just leave me alone!

Timed deadlines help you avoid worrying and nagging… two parental actions that only make matters worse and create scape goats for your teen to use as reasons why she can’t follow through on her responsibilities.  

What if she misses her deadline?

Then she doesn’t earn her commission for that task on that day.  In the example above, if her deadline to make her bed was 7:30am, but at 7:31am her bed was not made, then she wouldn’t get paid for that job today.  Yes, you may have to tolerate an unmade bed from time to time, but you’re playing the long game here.  The unmade bed is a teachable moment for her.  Ten unmade beds are ten teachable moments of lost income that add up over time and start to sink in.  The trap that most parents fall into here is judging and shaming their kids for messing up.  Avoid this temptation and let the missed allowance do all the yelling and nagging for you.  You also may want to agree which clock in the house is the official time, as many clocks will vary throughout the house.  You don’t want to be in the position of determining which 7:30am is the right time as you are trying to get her out of the house to go to school.

I’m confused.  How do I apply the missed commission to his $20 allowance?

Okay, math-a-phobes… here’s how you do it with the help of some simple math word problems… yippee!

Since you are the supervisor, it is your responsibility to keep track of what commissions your teen earns.  For example:

  • Let’s assume the $20 is broken down over an earning period of five days.
  • On any of those five days, he can earn $4 (5 days x $4 = $20).
  • That $4 is divided among his tasks for that day.  If he has four tasks, each one of those tasks can earn him an average of $1.00 (4 tasks x $1.00 = $4.00). 
  • If your kid completed three of his four tasks for that day on time, he would earn $3.00 (3 tasks x $1.00 = $3.00).  
  • Since he did not finish his fourth assignment, he did not earn the full $4.  At the end of the week, you go to your handy-dandy chart that you keep track of daily and tally up all of the tasks completed on time and pay him what he’s earned. 

What if my kid hates picking up the dog poop and says that it’s worth losing $1.00 a day not to do it?

When coming up with tasks that earn allowance, make sure your teenager is a part of the decision making process.  If she has no say in the “how” and the “what” then more than likely she’ll absolutely hate doing all of it.  If she feels like she was a part of the process then maybe her pride in creating the system will stick with her enough to carry out these horrible tasks.

The reason why you want to include her in creating the allowance structure is so that you can use that as a tool when you find yourself in a discussion about why certain chores aren’t getting done.  For example, when something is not getting done, you can say:

Jackie, these are the daily tasks that you agreed upon.  We choose them together and I had faith that you would do them because of our agreement.  What can we do to make this work for you?

And if switching one loathed task for one that is just severely disliked then maybe it’s worth the re-negotiation.  Remember, you can always add more responsibility when the time is right.  One day, you hinting at the possibility of upping the allowance will be worth the poop duty.  For starters though, let’s stick with what we know will lead to success.

Realistic expectations + Allowing room for mistakes 

= A trusting, tense-free relationship

Adding a bonus feature may also help your kid feel more motivated to complete her dreaded chores.  Here’s how: Any day that your kid completes a full day’s tasks on time… she gets a $2 bonus.  Don’t worry, she’ll almost never earn the $2 bonus because she’s a teenager and will rarely have a perfect day.  However, isn’t $2 a day incentive worth never having to remind, nag or pester your kid to be responsible?  Ultimately, if your kid was earning $30 due to bonuses each week because she was getting all of her chores done every day without you nagging… isn’t that peace of mind worth an extra $10 a week?

So, if my kid could have earned $30 with bonuses, but only did enough to receive $9, how do I talk to him about improving his success rate?

You don’t.  If allowance is 8pm on Sunday night, then you simply add up his earnings from your chart and cheerfully and respectfully hand him his $9… PERIOD!  No lectures, no insightful observations about procrastination, nothing!  Talk about anything but allowance and chores.  If you try to teach him, you will only distract him from learning.  Let the money do all the lecturing and nagging for you.  You want your teen to walk away with $9 in his hand thinking to himself,

$9.00!  Oh man!  Now I don’t have enough to preorder that new video game.  I totally messed up.  If I had just done all my chores I’d have the full $30.  Why do I keep doing this to myself?

He won’t have this self-reflection if you get in the way with your meddling.  

So, if she still needs an extra $20, should I lend it to her if she’s really nice and lets me know that she understands what she did wrong?

As we discussed in Part 1, NO!  Do not lend your teen money.  Be comforting, supportive and understanding, but hold the line and let her learn from her choices.  They are much better teachers than you can ever be.

But my teen says that he will refuse to do any of it and doesn’t care if he doesn’t get an allowance?

If your teenager needs money, he’ll eventually come around.  Do you remember when he was seven and he wanted chocolate ice cream so bad, he forced himself to eat his entire serving of broccoli that was defiantly staring at him from the plate?  Just because he claims not to care, doesn’t necessarily make it so.  He may care very much, but he doesn’t want you to know it.  Most kids will test this allowance structure for about three to six weeks to see if you’re going to give up… especially if you have so many times in the past.  After a month or two of having no money to buy music downloads, video games or to socialize with friends, he will eventually be more accepting of his responsibilities.  Again, the trap here for parents is hitting the panic button too soon.  

How do I get my teen to buy into this plan?

This list of responsibilities should be designed with your teenager’s input and cooperation.  It is important to seriously consider her opinions and incorporate her ideas.  If you decide to implement this strategy unilaterally, she will most likely not be vested in the success of your plan and will find ways to sabotage it… even at the cost of her own happiness!

These allowance guidelines are nothing more than… guidelines.  When you’re ready, take this framework and build it in a way that works best for your family.  Just remember that a reward-based system tends to be more effective than a fine-based system.  In other words, rewarding money for achieving her goals is much different than taking money away for not achieving those goals.  It may sound like splitting hairs, but psychologically, it’s much more effective to approach this from a place of support rather than from a punitive, judgmental place.  Your teen will respond much more to EARNING her allowance than for being PUNISHED for every little missed step.

There will be desperate times for you as a parent when you’re at your lowest, you may consider beating your kids instead of feeding them.  Yet always remember that the carrot is a stronger motivator than the stick!

(updated article from Janaury 2010)

Remember that adolescence is a temporary mental disorder and will pass within a few years.


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