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Problem child or problem parent?

Paying kids to do chores? Ludicrous.



What is going on with people and their children? The other day, I was watching The Today Show and a segment came on about paying kids to do chores. I thought I had misunderstood, so I sat there a little longer and waited for the segment. I said to myself, "They must be talking about allowances," which teaches kids real skills like budgeting, money management and the need to save for emergencies. 

To my chagrin, I was misinformed. They were not talking about allowances. I could not believe The Today Show had enlisted a group of experts to explain why it is necessary to pay kids to do chores like making up the bed that they sleep in or washing a dish that they eat off of every day.

I thought to myself, no wonder these kids come into my classroom thinking that they should get incentives to do what they are supposed to do -- come to class prepared, participate, study and do well on assignments and exams. Instead, I often get lots of grumbling about what I didn't do that made them not do their work. If I would relax my standards, lower my expectations, and allow them to do whatever the hell they damn well please, then they would be better students. That's naïve at best and flawed logic at worst.

Now I realize: Why should I expect them to be good and decent students when they are not being raised to be good and decent citizens? Yes, I said it and I meant it. The idea that you should pay a child for doing chores is ludicrous.

As hard as folks work today, there should be no reason why a child should receive money for chores. If you are blessed enough to have someone work hard on your behalf, feed, clothe, nurture and provide for you on a regular basis, then the least you can do is make up a bed that you sleep in and did not pay for. Demanding compensation for household chores does not make a bit of sense to me.

Before you start thinking that I think I'm perfect or was a perfect child, I was not -- far from it, quite frankly. Like most youngsters, my sister and I fought over doing the dishes and other chores. That would cease almost immediately, however, when my mother would raise the point that she went to work everyday to be able to buy the food, had to come home and cook the food, and we could not possibly think that she should also clean up afterwards. Even in my teenage mind, that made sense to me. Why should she buy the food, cook the food and clean up after us when we were perfectly capable of cleaning up after ourselves?

We were not allowed to complain about chores because it was our responsibility to pitch in and help the household run. We were a team and this was our role. Did we like it? Not really, but we learned to value the experience. My sister and I had some of our best times and did our best plotting over the dishes and folding our laundry. A chore was never optional, nor was contributing to the household.

My mother was not perfect either; in fact, she was a taskmaster, so much so that I called her "Mommylini" behind her back -- a maternal version of Mussolini. Discipline and structure was required, and there would be no incentives for it. It just was what it was. Getting good grades was part of our responsibility for being a member of our household.

While our friends were getting money for A's and B's, we'd get a nice pat on the back and maybe a special dinner. That was only if our behavior matched our grades. I was valedictorian of my high school and never got a dime for a grade, nor did I get a car upon graduation. Why? Because that was what were supposed to do as the children of Beverly and Earl Burton.

Which leads me back to this nonsense on The Today Show. Kids should not be rewarded for doing what they are supposed to do. This is why so many of them are ingrates, unable to live on their own, keep a job or make positive contributions to society. And then we get to "raise" them in our classrooms, while they're steadily trying to tell us what to do and how to do it, with helicopter parents hovering and co-signing on the foolishness.

Perhaps there is too much focus on the child instead of on the parents. It is they who have the problem -- an inability or unwillingness to dig in and do the hard work of raising expectations, enforcing rules, and teaching children how to be self-sufficient and team players instead of princes and princesses. After all, this is real life, not some fairy tale.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communications and media studies at Goucher College and editorial director for

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