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Are you a grade-obsessed parent? Symptoms include:
- Anything less than straight A’s means failure.
- If your child gets an A- on a quiz, you expect them to retake the quiz or look into extra credit opportunities.
- If your child gets a bad grade on a test, your first response is to email the teacher.
You don’t have to share your answers. This quiz won’t be graded.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look at grades. My 6th grader’s school keeps real-time grades online, and I do check often. But I’m not looking at the grade itself. I think the grade is the beginning of the story, not the end.
I agree that grades are important in high school, because those will be considered for college admission. But does an A in 6th grade guarantee an A in high school? Is it really important that your kids are getting the highest possible grades in 3rd grade?
I don’t think so. To me, the process is more important than the grade.
Goal: Develop a lifelong learner.
The world is changing rapidly. Bill Gates and Elon Musk are among the industry leaders who predict that robots will replace a large number of jobs by 2030. As many as 2 billion jobs could be lost to automation. But as those jobs go away, new jobs will be created. So our kids need to be open to learning throughout their lives so that they can adapt to the changing job environment.
2030 sounds like it’s so far away, but it really isn’t. Current kindergartners will graduate high school in 2029.
How to do it: Incorporate learning into everyday life. I don’t mean sit your child down at the kitchen table. There are so many ways to encourage learning through ordinary life activities.
- Play a game. When my older son had trouble grasping money concepts in first grade, we found a game called Loose Change that required money calculations. J loved the game and would play it any chance he got. He quickly learned what he had been struggling with in school.
- Get in the kitchen. My boys helped me make snickerdoodles. Since it’s my favorite cookie, we had to make a double batch so that there would be cookies for the rest of the family. I let them take some of the cookies to school for snack time. The school expects snacks to be healthy, so I emailed each of the teachers to explain that the cookies were brain-healthy. I wrote about some of the lessons the kids learned as they calculated doubling the recipe, compared shapes to make the cookies uniform, etc.
- Build a lifelong reader. My boys were required to read for at least 20 minutes a night, and it quickly turned into a battle of wills because they did not want to sit there with a book. Finding books for boys is not easy, since they don’t want to read about princesses and ballerinas.
The resource teacher at their school posted a list of age-appropriate graphic novels. I thought my boys would be interested in magic pickles and amoebas, so I got a few books and suggested the boys give them a try. The graphic novels showed them that reading could be fun, and they were more willing to give other books a chance. No more reading arguments.
FYI – Captain Underpants books are written at a third grade level.
My younger son looked at me one day and told me he didn’t like the book he was reading. He was stunned when I told him to stop reading it and asked me, “Can you do that?” I smiled and told him that there are so many books that he would enjoy that he can stop reading a book if he didn’t like it (unless it was required for school).
Looking for books for your kids? I asked for recommendations on Goodreads, and got some terrific ideas.
Middle/Junior High School
Goal: Develop strong habits.
Yes, grades are starting to get more important. But what really matters is how kids get their grades. Are they developing the habits that they need to succeed in the future?
When I was in middle school, I skated through. My grades were mostly good. But I shot myself in the foot on more than one occasion with my lackluster attitude toward deadlines. I didn’t turn in a project because I never bothered to start it. I turned in a paper late because I was too busy with the school musical and other activities to work on the paper. Did I learn from my mistakes and turn around my carelessness? Not really, so I just kept struggling with deadlines and schedules throughout upper school and college.
My 6th grader loves math, but he got a terrible grade on his first test. My husband and I looked at him and asked him what happened. He told us that he got stuck on one question and didn’t have enough time to answer the last 6 questions. We immediately said, “Oh! That makes sense!” He learned a valuable lesson – if he gets stuck on a question, skip it and finish the rest of the test. If he had time, he could go back to that question .
Big deal – he didn’t finish 6 math problems. In the grand scheme of his life, that one test grade will have no impact on his future. But the lesson he learned on how to respond when he gets stuck on a problem will stick with him for a lifetime.
He thanked us for not freaking out about the grade and told us that he would more stressed out if we were hovering over his shoulder expecting him to explain every time he didn’t get a perfect score. He gave us examples of classmates and how their parents put so much pressure on them that they were always worried. It works for him. Since he’s not focused on a number, he just focuses on learning, and he’s seeing great results.
Goal: Prepare for independence.
It’s time for the bird to fly from the nest. Ready or not, students are going to have to interact with the outside world. Some may be moving on to further education, some may be moving into the workforce, and some may not even make it through 4 years of high school before they leave school.
Are people ready to fend for themselves because they get good grades? Yes and no.
- Grades open a number of doors.
Good grades provide so many opportunities. At the minimum, your child has a high school diploma. Good grades can lead to higher education. Best of all, good grades can increase the chance of winning scholarships, reducing college expenses and student loans.
- Grades can be the result of strong time management skills.
Do your children steadily prepare for projects and tests instead of cramming? When they’re on your own, they must manage their time get what’s important done (work, school, etc.) without going wild.
- Grades can be the result of strong habit development.
Does your child cram for tests and do assignments at the last minute? Or does your child plan out work to be ready for deadlines and tests? If your child has developed the strong habits recommended earlier, those grades show that your child has the maturity to handle the additional responsibilities the world requires.
- Good grades don’t guarantee mental preparedness.
Good grades in high school do not equate to good grades in college. My hallmates and I pointed out that most of us had been in the top 10% of our high school classes, which meant that up to 90% of us were going to have to have an attitude adjustment. Some students can handle it, others can’t. Some spend so much time hanging out in a fraternity that their grades are terrible.
Others can be so overwhelmed that they hurt themselves or even contemplate suicide. I’m not exaggerating. I passed a hallmate who seemed troubled and asked her how she was doing. She replied, “I don’t want to live.” My heart sank because she wasn’t kidding. I stayed with her until I knew she was not in imminent danger, and then went to the resident assistant. The girl ended up dropping out.
- Good grades don’t guarantee to financial management skills.
Can your child manage money? Credit card companies will bombard your children with offers. Would your child use a credit card responsibly use a card or build up debt? Many companies check credit reports during job searches, so a bad credit rating could cost your child that dream job.
- Grades don’t equate to healthy eating skills.
Can your child cook? Many rely on ramen noodles, boxed macaroni and cheese, etc. if they haven’t been shown how to cook. An Australian study showed that students who rely on these types of meals are more likely to suffer from heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
What’s the best indicator for successful independence?
For so much of their lives, children have been able to rely on their parents to speak up for them. At some point, they need to be able to speak for themselves. They need to have the self-awareness, confidence, and social skills to be able to stand up for themselves.
- Parents need to cut the cord.
I’m married to a college instructor and can assure you that college faculty and administration do not take kindly to parents calling about grades or classroom issues. The students are given a clear chain of command to follow when an issue arises, and the parents are not part of that chain. When parents try to intervene, they are acknowledging that their child is too weak to handle issues on their own.
And college is a cakewalk compared to the job world. According to an Adecco survey, nearly 40% of Americans between 18 and 24 have their parents involved in their job search. It’s one thing to provide contacts and give interview advice, but some parents go overboard and get their children blacklisted. Don’t call the potential employer to plead your child’s case. Don’t write your child’s resume. And do not go along to the job interview! If you don’t think your children are ready to communicate their own strengths to a hiring manager or conduct salary negotiations on their own, then you have not done your job as a parent. Whether you intervene or not, your children will not get hired.
- Your children need to develop their communication skills.
A good self-advocate knows how to develop and present an idea. A self-advocate has the speaking skills to communicate respectfully and articulately. No matter what kind of job your child wants to pursue, effective communication skills are essential. Employers will be more confident that your child can appropriate represent the company’s values.
So, are grades important?
Yes, grades are important – if they are addressed in the proper context. If you just want your children to get the highest number on the report card, then their grades may not be an indicator of future success. But using grades as part of building successful habits and preparing for independence prepares your children to succeed in their futures, not just on paper.