Heidi Klum’s Parenting 101: Pay Off Your Kids

Plus: Give them cars and iPads in exchange for not drinking themselves to death!

If I were to tell you that I know a child who is given a $50-$60 video game for every week that he attends school, would you judge the parents of said child harshly for being well, a little whack?

Probably.

Then why are so many people applauding Heidi Klum for paying her kids to drink the morning smoothies she makes them? Isn’t the principle the same, i.e. kids are being rewarded for behaviors that should be expected, not considered exceptional?

Maybe it’s not that strange that Heidi Klum would pay her kids to drink their morning smoothies since she was just paid to eat a four-inch-high Carl’s Jr. burger! Her value judgements may be a little skewed; in fact, look at her, she may only eat when she is paid.

The commercial makes as much sense as paying her kids to eat their veggies does: Klum is dressed in a standard issue LBD and is striking a pose from The Graduate. She takes a bite out of a sandwich that’s so huge it looks like she will have to unhinge her jaw. She licks the burger, like you do, manages the bite, though she gets a good deal of Jim Beam BBQ sauce on her face. She then strides across the room in her stillettos, like you do, and shoves the burger in the face of a much younger man, who looks nothing like Dustin Hoffman, though he’s wearing a suit.

No matter that Heidi is eating a 960-calorie burger, and she pays her kids to drink wheat grass smoothies; she is one complicated lady.

An NBC poll shows respondents to be fairly equally split on the child payoff matter, with 46 percent saying yes to bribing your kids to get them to eat healthy foods. I think of it like this: Certain behaviors should simply be expected, not rewarded. I would not reward a child for NOT hitting his sister; I would simply expect him not to—and punish him if he did. While I am usually the first one to bash a hole in slippery-slope defenses, I fear what happens next when we pay a child to eat his broccoli.

Many bloggers and parents who defended Klum liken her paying her kids to drink their smoothies to allowances for chores, but I see a marked difference. I get paid to work. I don’t get paid to go to the gym and eat salads, for which the health benefits should be reward enough. I should eat salads and go to the gym because it’s good for me, because it’s the right thing to do. Just like not parking in no parking zones, not taking tape or paper from work, “forgetting” to tell the cashier about the case of water at the bottom of the cart. Even if I could get away with these things, I’m not going to do them because I simply shouldn’t.

If the family is a microcosm of the larger community, what kind of community are we creating if respectful, healthy behavior is rewarded with cash? Shouldn’t certain behaviors be expected just because the family is functioning, and therefore, the society, is functioning?

I think the reward and ramifications should match the act. Chores earn cash; they are work. Eating healthy is just what we do. Children shouldn’t have to negotiate “wages” for responsibilities that are shared or for things that just need to get done. Taking out the garbage benefits the family unit, so it just gets done without debate or price tags.

A century or two ago, the expectation was that families worked together to keep a household running. Today’s 6- to 12-year-old set spends only about 24 minutes a day doing chores. This represents a 25 percent drop in the past 25 years. Anthropologists studying child-rearing say that this “chore strike” by children is primarily a Western phenomenon. In other cultures, children simply help out for the larger good. For example, in a settlement in Nepal, children as young as 18 months carry firewood and water.

Human beings have the longest and latest adolescence in the animal world, but shouldn’t all of that time they are under their parents tutelage and rule be a grooming toward their own independence? American kids, for the most part, aren’t carrying firewood and water, making it even more clear to me that putting away their own laundry should be, simply, an assumption.

For more than a decade, parent organization and schools have teamed together to have safe, alcohol-free parties for after prom and after graduation. Hypnotists are hired, photo booths rented along with first-release movies, and at a school in Kansas, an entire amusement park was commandeered for the night. Prizes are donated by area businesses to make the events even more alluring, ranging from Honda Civics, to iPads, to gift cards. No matter that, in this region at least, kids just save their hard-core partying for the beach houses that they rent for the after-after prom. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that car accidents involving teens in the prom months of April and May have dropped by 50 percent in the last few years.

I guess once they get to the Shore house they don’t drive around, which is great news. But, I know a mother who was so paranoid about potential prom night shenanigans that she offered her daughter an iPad if she just came home. I get it, I do, but I feel more pain for the girl who was quite literally forced into a decision that wasn’t really hers at all.

Parenting is hard. Whether you call them rewards or bribes, all parents have used these methods with varying effects. I think most parents have carried their screaming and kicking or rigid child out of the store with the child screeching for a candy bar or scooter or pack of gum, and we all have also broken down, when too tired to put up the fight, and bought the coveted item to just make the cacophony stop.

Grade inflation, no losers at the t-ball game, and paying your kids for eating their broccoli all roll into one big mess for me: kids being rewarded for being able to limbo right under that bar rather than attempting to leap over it.

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