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Ronald McDonald wants your kids to be smart

December 6, 2007

Seminole County, Florida schoolchildren finally have an incentive to do well in their classes: Chicken McNuggets. McDonalds has funded the costs of the envelopes schools use for report cards, and they have added a coupon for a free Happy Meal, valid only if the child does well.

Parents looking to take the fun and joy of childhood away from their children are upset. They do not believe a fast food company should be targeting their children in such a fashion. According to one parent:

“My daughter worked so hard to get good grades this term and now she believes she is entitled to a prize from McDonald’s,” Susan Pagan, an Orlando parent, said in a press release distributed by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “And now I’m the bad guy because I had to explain that our family does not eat at fast-food chains.”

People like this lady need to chill out a bit. The fact that you never feed your daughter fast food makes it more of an incentive to her to do better. If nothing but McDonalds for 30 days didn’t kill Morgan Spurlock, then I don’t think four cheeseburgers a year will hurt this little girl too much.

This article was sent to me by my lovely girlfriend, who points out that when we were in grade school, “Book It” was a program schools ran with Pizza Hut to encourage kids to read outside of the classroom. And it worked; kids read books, at least in part because they wanted the free pizza. I would bet that at least a few of the kids who participated in Book It discovered they actually liked reading books.

This McDonald’s deal is similar, but less frequent in its rewards. Book It was monthly, if I remember correctly. But when it works, the long term benefits that come with enjoying to read things are far outweighed by the relatively shorter term costs of giving your kids junk food.

This may have been a local thing, but we always took our report cards to Chuck E. Cheese when we were young. They gave us a certain number of free tokens for every “A” we received. And of course, we ate all the junk food and pizza they serve when we were there. So not only were we getting unhealthy food, but we also got to play video games as a reward. And amazingly (to Susan Pagan of Seminole County at least) I am still alive.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, incentives work. Mayor Bloomberg in NYC is giving parents money from his own pockets for reading to their children, taking their children to the doctor, and other things they should be doing already as parents. A recent Slate article features examples of incentives being offered to people in somewhat unconventional ways, and to much success: An Italian mayor offering money to his townspeople to lose weight, and a study that showed paying pregnant women to quit smoking works.

People may have issues with paying people to take responsibility for their own lives, especially when most people do not need to be paid to do so. Incentives work, and in this specific case, a Happy Meal is not that offensive of a reward for ten weeks of work by a child.

One Comment leave one →
  1. andy permalink*
    December 10, 2007 10:39 am

    This sort of reminds me of when my elementary school finally got pizza in the cafeteria. Every Tuesday was Domino’s pizza day.

    For the price of lunch you got a whopping ONE fucking piece of pizza. Thanks so much. As I recall it wasn’t much different in high school. The default serving was one slice. It felt like a soup kitchen.

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