Should Kids' Slipping Grades Threaten a Family Vacation? This Redditor Wants to Know

Summertime is vacation time when you have school-aged kids—but maybe not for one family. Reddit was torn on whether poor grades should affect a family's upcoming trip.

The phrase "let's make a deal" might be a popular line from a classic gameshow, but when one stepmom made a deal with her kids—what she thought was a perfect tit-for-tat to improve their grades—it didn't work out very well. The result? An internal family debate about whether it should put their summer plans on hold permanently.

The stepmom, who shares legal custody of her two children with her husband, took to Reddit to settle the conflict. Instead, it sparked a larger discussion.

An image of a F on a piece of paper.
Getty Images (1). Art: Jillian Sellers.

Here's the background: "Deal was simple," the original poster (OP) wrote in a now-deleted entry. "Make honor roll this quarter and score an awesome vacation. [My teens] were well on their way just a few weeks ago, and I started booking flights and making reservations."

"But over the course of a few weeks," OP continued, "both [of them] did just enough damage to their grades (mostly via incomplete homework) that they won't be able to pull them back up to a B. In fact, my eldest missed several major projects and is now failing two classes."

"As far as I'm concerned," OP said, "a deal is a deal. The terms were clear."

The poster pointed out that she had been giving the teens "daily reminders to complete their work, check they had everything ready to turn in, et cetera. On more than one occasion (clearly) they lied to me about the status of their homework."

The problem: Her spouse still wanted the kids to go. "I've put my foot down and said 'no,'" the OP explained. "Why should I reward my kids and punish myself for them dropping the ball? Any advice?"

Commenters on the post couldn't come to a consensus, proving just how tricky the situation was.

One reader emphasized that it was always dangerous to bargain with children. "They likely will remember the time [you] wouldn't let them go on vacation much more than they will learn about being good at homework," the person pointed out.

Another commenter said, "I would have never tied grades to a family vacation, much less demanding honor roll ... no way am I putting my family's vacation, which is likely much needed after the pandemic, [at risk because of] my kids' grades."

Others supported the poster's stance.

"I'm with you," said one parent. "A deal is a deal. If they get away with it this time, they'll just push harder next time. Taking them would be reinforcing bad behavior."

Some people empathized with the OP, but still had qualms about the situation. "Personally, I would not have tied a vacation to grades that are subject to change because it steals a vacation away from ME too, but you did, and now you all need to deal with the fallout," a commenter wrote.

It's a tough call, for sure. But Karen Aronian, Ed.D., a New York-based parenting and education expert, believes OP ultimately did the right thing.

"The best way to ingrain change is to stick to your word," she says, adding that the parent's decision may be painful for her kids, but will leave them with a valuable lesson.

Of course, as many Redditors noted, skipping the vacation extends the consequence to the parents. To get around that, Aronian says they could consider leaving the children with someone, such as a grandparent, and taking the trip alone.

Asked if rewards can ever play a role in encouraging good grades, Aronian says yes: "We live in a reward system. You go to work, and you get paid. You do good work, maybe you get [a bonus]."

In a related "Ask Your Mom" column for Parents, clinical psychologist Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., agreed, noting that when properly applied, rewards and consequences can help shape the behaviors you wish to see in your children, an effect called "behaviorism." But when using this approach, it's important to know the difference between a bribe and a reward.

"Bribery involves giving the reward before the desired behavior, and behaviorism is using the reward after the behavior, which is considered reinforcement," she explained.

How can parents use rewards more effectively? Here's what Edlynn recommends:

  • Tailor the reward to the problem. Pinpoint the specific behavior you want to change. Perhaps your child routinely ignores their homework or struggles to understand certain concepts on their math assignments. If it's a problem they face regularly, the reward might be small and recurring (like stickers, which work well for young kids). Complex problems may earn one large reward.
  • Consider breaking the reward down. Every kid is different, so the reasons they're struggling in school will vary. If your child procrastinates, you might give them small rewards for each step of a large project they complete. The approach does double duty: It helps them focus on each aspect of the task instead of getting overwhelmed by its size and focuses on the problem and effort (getting work done) rather than an outcome that might be subjective (a grade).
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