I passed third grade. I did it a long time ago and I can’t remember all the details of it, but I know that I did it without a lot of help from anyone. I was expected to bring home my assignments, complete them, do my chores, and with whatever time I had left, to play. I say the same to my children who begrudgingly head off to get things done. My mantra, when I hear even the slightest whine is, “I already passed that grade, now it’s your turn.”
Recently, while listening to one of my favorite podcasts with Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew, Adam went off on the issue of school projects and how much they are expecting from our kids even after an 8 hour school day. I couldn’t agree with him more. I often wonder as well what is happening during their school day if they still need to continue working for two to three more hours for “home” work. Projects are especially fun and when my 3rd grader came home with an assignment that was given two weeks notice to complete I suggested we look through her assignment. The teacher provided the grading rubric she would be using and the requirements for the students. I sat down with my 8 year old and helped her figure out what she needed to do. I took her to the store, let her chose the materials she wanted to include (which will have a budget next time) and let her make decisions on how to put everything together. When she asked for help, I responded with some questions on what she was trying to accomplish and then made some suggestions. You see, as a clinical psychologist who often sees teens and college students I know what doing these projects now will do to me later. It will make me an overqualified student at each and every grade she goes into as she continues to rely on me. I passed elementary school, high school, college and extensive graduate work. If there is a good time for my daughter to fail or learn life lessons, then let it be now, not when it is in high school or college when it matters. Letting her learn that she must rely on herself, dig deep and put in the work, then let that time be now.
Seems reasonable to most of you reading this I am sure. However, the text message strand I was included in with multiple mom friends the weekend before the project was due was causing me an unusually high level of anxiety as I realized my daughter wouldn’t be competing in third grade against her peers, it would be the parents of her classmates that she would be scored against. Thankfully, it is third grade so there isn’t a curve (I hope) and I know that in the end most of the parents will make their children do their own work as well. But it makes me wonder what will we come of us as a society if we start to allow these children to offer up work that is not their own. Even more, how do the children with parents that both work, or have just one parent households, even compete against these parents that do the work, or hire tutors that take their children through grade after grade falsely bolstering their grade in a reflection of what they or their money can afford? They can’t – is the simple answer. Their kids will be the children that may perform at the middle or even the bottom of the class, often demoralized by their efforts and failing grades against what they perceive are their peers.
As a psychologist, I implore you to stop this cycle for the benefit of your children and society as a whole. The proof is already a reality given we have overinflated, grandiose, entitled students at the college level that now simple feel as though they can demand grades and degrees without putting in the hard work. You can’t be surprised at how it turns out after you understand the way that they are getting there. Life should not be about trying to be better than your neighbor, about needing to have the most creative and exquisite project your parents can help you present. Life should be about the little failures and challenges that teach us how to be resilient, work harder, and make better choices every step of the way.