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Would You Pay Your Teen to Participate in a Family Activity?

I don't have plans to offer my kids cash again for a movie night -- at least not any time soon -- but the evening was really lovely, and it wouldn't have happened without that lousy ten bucks.
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If you've never parented a teenager, you may be shaking your head right now. You might even be angry that someone would suggest something so crass. In fact, when my kids were toddlers, a parent I know and respect once told me she was considering giving her teenager cash in exchange for accompanying her family on a trip to the beach, and I was appalled.

I mean, why wouldn't the kid want to spend a day at the beach with her family? And why would a smart, loving mom even think of paying her child for the honor of her presence? What kind of message does that send?

But I'd already answered that last question in my naïve mind. It was a terrible message, all around. Adults are forced to deal with nasty things like money and greed quite frequently, but childhood should be about innocence, and pure, unadulterated fun. Not to mention that family is, well, family, and isn't childhood the time when you're supposed to teach your kids that love and happiness can't be bought?

As you can see, I had it all figured out. Except that I didn't, because there was a glitch in my judgmental thinking: I believed teenagers were simply older, larger versions of children.

Ha! These days, as the mother of two teens, I've got a slightly new take on this topic. In my experience, teenagers are a little like toddlers (sweet and loving one minute; rebellious as hell the next), a little like adults going through midlife crises (confused, shocked and perhaps a bit sad to be in this new stage of life), and a little like wild dogs (oh, that pack mentality).

Hence, telling a teenager that the family is planning an activity -- a weekend getaway, for example -- is completely different than saying that to a ten year old. I remember when my kids would get all excited about the prospect of a family trip. Now, however, my teens are much more liable to answer with something like, "Well, I'm not going," or "Can I stay home with a friend?"

And then what? If you've ever been on an excursion with a grumpy teenager, you know how much fun that can be. On the other hand, there are those times when the teen ends up having a much better time than he or she expected. Because let's face it, life is full of surprises, and nobody -- not even a teenager! -- can predict how things will turn out.

Then there's the undeniable fact that life is flying by really fast, and legal adulthood isn't far away for my kids. I also know that once they're adults, life will be different. Yes, I know that's normal, and it's the natural order of things, but I can't help crying about it sometimes, and I treasure quality family time more than ever these days.

Anyway, I saw an opportunity for some good family time one evening about a month ago. Everyone had been running all over the place for several weeks, and my maternal instincts were screaming. All I wanted was to pull everyone together for a couple of hours, and that night, the stars had lined up in such a way that nobody had much homework, or any plans to leave the house.

But what would we do? How about a movie night? And since the film The Breakfast Club has been celebrating its thirtieth anniversary in 2015, wouldn't that be a great selection? Yes! The only problem was that one kid was compliant and the other wasn't.

"Oh come on!" I cajoled. "It's just two hours, and it's important to me. Besides, I think you'll really like the movie."

"No, Mom. Sorry I'm just not into it. Besides, I'm supposed to meet some friends online in a while to play a game."

Damn it! You play video games all the time, and we haven't watched a movie together in months. I didn't say that out loud, but that's what I was thinking. And I really didn't want the opportunity to slip away. It was a Thursday, and the weekend was going to be busy, and the holidays were approaching and...,

"I'll pay you!" I blurted.

"Hmm." That got my kid's attention. "How much?"

"Uh, ten bucks?" Ten bucks. I can't believe it. I just offered my child money to hang out with the family. What am I becoming? What kid of message am I sending? Guilt flooded me. I decided to rescind the offer.

"Deal," said my kid.


"Yeah. I could use ten bucks. So yeah, I'll watch it."


Here's the good news: the movie night was a success. We all watched The Breakfast Club together, sitting on the couch like in the old days, when we'd watch The Wiggles, or Elf. Better yet, everyone liked it, even the non-compliant kid. When I went to sleep that night, I felt happy. There was also the bonus of hoping the film's message had resonated with the kids. After all, we are all geeks, and popular kids, and stoners, and jocks and misfits underneath it all, aren't we?

On the bad side, well, I gave my kid a ten-spot shortly after the credits ran. For some reason, the song "Taxi" by Harry Nielsen popped into my head. Totally different scenario, but something about handing over that bill -- and seeing it accepted so easily -- felt wrong to me.

But was it wrong? I don't have plans to offer my kids cash again for a movie night -- at least not any time soon -- but the evening was really lovely, and it wouldn't have happened without that lousy ten bucks.

I honestly don't know what to make of the whole thing, and would love to hear what other parents of teens think. Would you give your kid money in exchange for some family time, or is that an example of parenting at its worst?