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How Much Happier Could You Be if You Let Your Child Fail?

let child fail

 

The hearts and heads of moms are so full of things to do, places to be, issues to resolve. When I lie down to sleep, it’s not a singular voice in my head that keeps me awake – it’s a full-blown cacophony:

 

Did you update the school lunch account?

Is the volleyball uniform clean?

Ugh. You forgot to call the dentist again.

You’re on carpool for dance tomorrow!

Do we have anything for breakfast?

 

And these voices are just the outer membrane of worries about my teenagers. Once those slough away, the questioning intensifies:

 

Are their friendships good for them?

Do they feel equipped to face the challenges of teen life?

Is technology crushing their souls?

Am I doing enough? Too much?

 

With these persistent questions warding off sleep, it’s no wonder that I often wake up like a monster. And not a fuzzy, cute Muppet monster — more like a sleep-deprived Gorgon who chews up slow-moving teenagers and spits them out, all before her first cup of coffee. 

 

Things are looking up, though. I made a radical change that improved not only my mental health but also my relationship with my tween and teen:

 

I stopped checking their grades.

 

This was a big deal for me, but it was a game-changer. If you are seeking a little less stress and a little more serenity, I urge you to jump on board. If you are a mom of one or more middle schoolers, stop checking their grades.

 

I sense your resistance but hear me out.

I know a lot about grades. I’ve tabulated student quarterly grades a minimum of 3,936 times as a middle-school teacher since 1994. For the first few years, I penciled each mark into a green leatherette notebook and tabulated grades by hand. Back then, parents relied on anecdotal accounts from their kids regarding their progress in school. Any worries about a student’s performance was communicated with a phone call home. Progress reports and report cards provided quarterly benchmarks for parents to peruse.

 

Here in 2019, the educational landscape has altered significantly.

 

Today, you can check your child’s grades 24/7.
You can sign up to have a personalized progress report e-mailed to you every Friday. If you prefer, you can personalize your settings so that each and every time a teacher enters a grade for your child, your phone will ping.

With the advent of the online grade book, grade responsibility subtly slipped from student to parent. 

 

Middle school parents have become grade-obsessed.

 

When my oldest daughter started sixth grade, I spent an inordinate amount of time mulling over the online grade book. I was surprised how fixated I became on her grades.

 

Hmm… Why did she get a 3 out of a 5 on an English assignment? That’s a D-…how long is it going to take for her science exam score to be recorded … A B- on Tuesday’s math homework? I thought my husband checked that… I wonder if it’s mathematically possible for her to get an A in social studies after getting a 71% on the first exam…for the love of Lincoln, why hasn’t the history teacher entered any grades for two weeks?

 

Middle-school grades triggered unnecessary anxiety.

 

It didn’t take a trip to Freud’s couch to know that my grade obsession stemmed from my childhood. I played the game of school well. Traditional learning was easy for me, and I loved gold stars. I grew up believing that my worth was tied up in my grades. If I could travel back in time, I would whisper to myself:

The truth is that middle-school grades do not matter.

 

Since we are entrenched in the traditional paradigm of grading, let’s agree that grades “count” in high school. A solid GPA opens more doors for students as they explore their college options. No college, however, looks at middle school marks.

 

So, take a break from the weekly (daily? hourly?) check-ups on your child’s grades. However, don’t totally tune out. Use progress reports and report cards to track your child’s development. 

 

Middle school grades can help identify gaps that need to be filled and weaknesses that need to be girded up before “grades count.” This is vital data to help your student learner grow. And, if you truly want your child to find success in high school and beyond, I offer you this oxymoron for middle school:

Allow your child to fail.

 

More can be gained from a student’s genuine failure than from a parent-driven success. You’ve already graduated from 7th-grade: you don’t need to do it again. Teachers need to see your child’s authentic strengths and weaknesses in order to help them grow. 

 

So, stop correcting the math homework. And as much as it pains you, let your procrastinating daughter turn in her history project half-finished. Don’t allow your son to miss school with an acute case of the “I have a presentation today” flu. 

 

Will this mean your child might drop from As and Bs to Cs and Ds? Maybe.

But that’s okay in middle school. Allow your child to struggle.

They can not develop perseverance nor build their problem-solving skills if Mom is doing half the work. Let your teen figure out how to recover from a mess they created by poor choices. Give them this valuable opportunity to learn to advocate for themselves and seek additional help from their teachers. 

 

I know that this can be hard. We don’t like to see our kids upset or embarrassed.

However, kids need a chance to take control of their own mistakes. They need to know that you are still there as a guide, a coach, an “I’ll hug you no matter your grades” mom.

You can be a safety-net, but stop yourself from taking the onus off of your teens to solve their report-card problems. Middle school is a safe place to screw up and recover. 

 

From my side of the fence, I’ve watched twenty-six classes of 8th-grade graduation ceremonies. Nothing moves me to tears more than watching the graduates who had struggled in 6th grade, struggled in 7th grade, but then persevered and conquered 8th grade.

I am confident these students are prepared to handle the challenges of high school because I have seen them grow through academic adversity. We all need a chance to fall so we can learn how to get back up again.

 

Middle-school grades don’t reflect your parenting.

 

I know, our kids can be extensions of ourselves. We sometimes internalize their success as our success and their failure as our failure. But it’s a lie to believe that their presence or absence on the honor roll is a judgment of parents.

I promise you: teachers do not judge parents based on their child’s report card. We just don’t. (But don’t be silly. Judging happens.) However, teachers do not equate “A” students with outstanding parenting, “C” students with average parents, and “F” students with failing parents. 

 

If grades are important in your family’s values, I respect that. But, you can still step away from the online grading system. Trust your child to be an honest reporter of their in-progress grades. And I beg you: don’t burden your child with report-card expectations so great that your child is crying at my desk on the last day of the quarter, begging for 112 points of extra credit to avoid getting a B that will enrage their parents. That’s just nuts.

 

Grade monitoring cramps conversation. 

 

When I stopped monitoring my daughter’s grades, our school conversation shifted. No longer was the question, “Why did you get a 78% on your essay?” Instead, we talked about tigers, her essay’s topic. She told me what she learned, what she liked, how she struggled. She told me about how they were endangered and how some species were extinct. She told me she didn’t alphabetize her “Works Cited” page and she lost some points. It was a great interaction.

 

I realized how my online grade book fixation had reduced our discussions to percentage points: numbers to be defended and numbers to be praised. I was quickly giving her the message that her worth was tied to a score. It wasn’t my finest semester as a parent. My sixth-grader was so much more than a number on a screen.

 

Can you break the habit?

 

Step away from the computer.
Take the grading app off of your phone.
Breathe slowly, in through your mouth and out through your nose.

You have enough going on. You don’t need to worry about the result of the quiz on comma usage, the project on Medieval England, or the test on polynomials. Shift your focus from your child’s daily grades to larger patterns of growth on report cards and other measures of assessment. Stay involved and supportive, but gently hand over the reins to your child.

My hope is that your family, like mine, will find at least a 10% increase in your life happiness. Every teacher would record that change as an A+.

 

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