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Making Allowance Work

QUESTION: My son is 14 years old and his chores involve keeping his room clean and organized, feeding pets and helping with kitchen cleanup. Please give me guidelines on how to make allowance "work" as well as an idea of what an appropriate allowance is for a child of this age.

ANSWER: The allowance amount you give your son is really up to you. But if resources permit, why not pay him an amount based on the time it takes for him to do these chores? Whether you pay him two dollars or fifty cents per hour, you introduce the concept of working for a living. But, remember, with responsibility comes freedom and the right to decide how he will spend his own money.

Take this opportunity to teach your son consistency and accountability to others in the performance of his family "job." A critical key to the success of such an arrangement is to communicate the clear expectation that while your child is paid for his work, he cannot independently decide to forego his chores in lieu of "no allowance" at whim! Like any job, he needs to work out any exceptions with you. Other than special arrangements for final exam schedules, or some equally important stressor, it is important that your teenager be expected to perform his job consistently. This encourages him to develop healthy work habits that engender self-respect and consideration for those relying upon him.

Another alternative for pay base may include a breakdown by duties. There may be responsibilities that you simply expect him to do without pay because they are mostly of benefit to him, such as cleaning his room. But vacuuming the entire house may be paid at a rate either based on time, or simply by a flat rate. It might even prove interesting to have a discussion with him about these alternatives and ask him for his input on what he thinks is fair.

Some parents choose to give their teenagers allowances that include responsibility for large areas of money management (such as a full wardrobe expense account), in the interest of teaching them how to handle money. This depends on your level of comfort, as well as your son's readiness for this kind of responsibility.

My husband and I came up with a dollar amount that my teenagers felt was fair. We also outlined the responsibilities that constituted their "job." We continued to pay for their usual expenses: They were free to use the money for anything they wanted. This arrangement encouraged them to consider the option to save for a special item of clothing, a new video, a first car or a spending account for college.

Regardless of how you decide to do it, consistent guidelines for an allowance in exchange for specified chores does give your son a sense of greater family participation. It is not only a learning opportunity, but a source of great pride for your child when he graduates to the role of a family contributor!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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