Summer is coming and it's time for vacation—but maybe not for one family. Reddit was torn on whether poor grades should affect an upcoming trip.

By Beth Ann Mayer
May 21, 2021

The phrase "let's make a deal" might be a popular line from a TV show, but one stepmom recently made a deal with her kids that didn't work out very well. Now, there's 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, which wound up sparking a larger debate.

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

Here's the background: "Deal was simple: Make honor roll this quarter and score an awesome vacation," u/allthechickens wrote. "They were well on their way just a few weeks ago, and I started booking flights and making reservations."

Unfortunately, the poster counted her chickens before they hatched. She explained that, over the last few weeks, both of her kids' grades slipped.

"They won't be able to pull them back up to a B," she said. "As far as I'm concerned, a deal is a deal."

But Dad isn't so sure.

"My husband still wants them to go," she wrote. "I've put my foot down and said 'no.' Why should I reward my kids and punish myself for them dropping the ball? Any advice?"

The Redditors couldn't come to a consensus, proving just how tricky this situation is.

Some commenters were Team Dad.

"Making deals with your kids is risky business. They likely will remember the time their stepmom wouldn't let them go on vacation much more than they will learn about being good at homework," the Redditor chimed in. "I would have never tied grades to a family vacation, much less demanding honor roll ... no way am I canceling my family's vacation, which is likely much needed after the pandemic to my kids' grades. I'm with your husband on this one," the person commented.

But others favored Mom's stance.

"I'm with you. If they get away with it this time, they'll just push harder next time. Taking them would be reinforcing bad behavior," someone wrote. "A deal is a deal. You had an awesome deal," someone else said.

Some favored Mom, but were still critical of 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," the commenter said.

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

"The best way to engrain change is to stick to your word," she says, noting that, while it'll be painful for the family in the short run, the lessons the little ones have learned will have long-lasting effects.

Of course, as one Redditor pointed out, not taking a vacation also punishes the parents. To get around that, Aronian says the parents could consider leaving the children with someone, such as a grandparent, and taking a trip themselves.

But then there's the heart of the debate: Can rewards 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]."

One psychologist also said yes when one person wrote into Parents with a similar question, but there are some caveats. First, it's important to know the difference between bribe and reward.

"Bribery is not the same as behaviorism," Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., wrote last year. "Bribery involves giving the reward before the desired behavior, and behaviorism is using the reward after the behavior, which is considered reinforcement."

How can parents do use rewards effectively? Here are a few tips from Edlynn:

  • Identify the problem. Reward good behavior. Perhaps your child's grades slipped because they missed a bunch of assignments. Give them a small reward, like a sticker or inexpensive toy, if they turn all their homework in on time for one week.
  • Remember that there's no one-size-fits-all. Every kid is different, so the reasons they're struggling in school will vary. Perhaps one kid procrastinates. Maybe you give the child small rewards each time they complete a step for a large project. This also focuses on the problem and effort (getting work done) rather than an outcome that might be subjective (a grade).