A father shared the unconventional method he's using to boost his son's math skills on TikTok and it's raising questions about how we should motivate our children.

By Zara Hanawalt
February 22, 2021
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An image of a boy doing math work.
Credit: Getty Images.

If you're a parent of a school-aged child, you probably have some strong thoughts about the challenges of motivating said child academically—particularly right now, when getting a kid to comply with parental guidance through virtual learning. We probably don't have to tell you that sometimes, you just have to get creative in order to get those kids learning.

But one dad's creative solution to boost his son's math skills is causing some controversy. While some are praising the hack, which the dad shared on TikTok, others believe it crosses boundaries.

According to the video, this dad was inspired to do something when his son's math grades began slipping. The son aspires to be a YouTuber, so he spends a lot of time playing video games. So here's what the dad did: He created a lockbox, placed his son's video game controllers inside it, and wrote out a math problem on a whiteboard above the box. The answer to that math problem will unlock the box, allowing the son to get back to his video game equipment. Seems like a pretty creative way to get a kid motivated to do math, right?

Well, not according to some people who have come across the video. "I thought you would help his dreams, not lock them up," one user comments. "He could be stressed and video gaming is his escape." Another user writes: "Ah yes my kid's grade is slipping so instead of asking him if he's been stressed lately and helping him, I lock away the things he love [sic]."

But others are praising the dad's solution. One user comments: "As a teacher, I wish there were more parents like you. Good job dad!" And another views the dad's move as a win/win scenario, writing: "Either he learns math or he learns to get good enough with tools to take apart the box. Either way, his future is bright."

Parents' Ask Your Mom columnist and clinical psychologist Emily Edlynn, Ph.D. says she gives this dad major points for creativity and effort but warns it might not work longterm or for all kids.

"I would caution other parents to go straight for the wood and hammers, though, because these strategies can end up not accomplishing the goal," she explains. "When we use external motivators for school performance, they can work briefly, but often do not last."

She points out that although kids might be temporarily invested in the solution, in the long term, they need to be motivated themselves to invest in their schoolwork.

"Our children do need limits, so it is appropriate to reduce access to video games and enforce the expectation that schoolwork comes before game time, but again, working this out collaboratively with the child is usually most effective."

In short, viewers can't seem to agree on whether this is a positive way to boost a kid's lagging academic performance or not. But here's the thing: What works for one child may not work for another, and it's up to us as parents to figure out what tactics are most effective for our kids. And that can take some trial and error! Hopefully, this dad's method will get his son learning—and if it works for his family, that's really all that matters.