A couple of weeks ago, M mentioned that one of his classmates paid him $5 to stop talking for the rest of the afternoon. He managed to keep quiet for the required time, so and spent the money on chocolate milk and cheezies at the canteen in the building where he goes after school.
We have learned that it is always good to ask M questions about these sorts of interaction. M doesn’t usually lie outright (unless he thinks he is in trouble). However, he does tend to have a unique perspective of events that may or not bear any resemblance to reality.
It turned out that M had been talking…a lot. The teacher, a substitute, offered him 10 cents to stop talking. M thought he was just joking. But one of his classmates upped the ante and offered him cold hard cash. Five dollars is not an insignificant amount to a 10-year old. With the promise of cold hard cash, he was quiet for the rest of the afternoon. It didn’t sound like M had coerced the other child into giving him the money. It was a straight forward contractual arrangement and M held up his end.
My husband and I weren’t particularly alarmed by the incident, but I did mention it to M’s regular teacher the next time I was at school. Kids understand, even at a young age that, in our society, that money talks. There are lots of examples of people doing goofy things for money – isn’t this the raison d’être of most reality tv? In that context, paying another child to keep quiet doesn’t seem completely outrageous. As a parent, not something you want to happen every day, but not the worst thing either.
As it turns out, the issue wasn’t so cut and dried. The school was concerned about the appropriateness of one student paying another to do something else. As we thought about it, we realized that this was not a good message for M. While paying someone to be quiet is innocuous, what if M was offered cash to do something much more risky? M is impulsive and not known for always exercising the best judgement – $10 bucks to throw snowballs at a car or jump off the play structure might see like a good idea at the time.
While I could agree that the other child shouldn’t have offered M money, it was less clear to me whether M should have taken the money or not. On the one hand, he fulfilled the terms of the deal. On the other hand, he shouldn’t be talking to the point of disturbing his classmates.
In the end, we paid the $5 back. It was a pretty small price to pay for a life lesson for all of us.