Are We Focusing Too Much On Grades?  A New Study Provides Insight

Many parents struggle with finding the right balance in our expectations for our children.

We certainly want them to do well in school and have the best start possible in order to be independent, successful adults.

But sometimes, we focus on the wrong indicators of success, and it can backfire in regard to our kids’ achievements – or worse.

For most of us, it’s fairly easy to model and teach our values to our kids when they are young.  They understand the rules and our expectations and know we want what’s best for them.

But we often hit a speed bump – or even a roadblock – as they enter the pre-teen and teenage years.

They may be met by challenges and influences that they aren’t prepared for, so it’s important for us to continue to guide them on the right path and be supportive.

But when it comes to academic achievement, many parents focus on grades as the end-all, be-all.

It can be frustrating and embarrassing to us as parents when our kids are not performing well at school.  We may feel like we’ve failed in some way.

But while we may do everything we can to support and encourage improvement, they may interpret our concern for criticism.

A recent federal study conducted on more than 500 middle and high schoolers shows that our focus on academic progress may be sending our kids the wrong message.

Researchers asked what kids thought their parents valued as being successful.  They collected information on both grades and classroom behaviors.

When teens thought their parents valued grades over their behavior at school, it was shown to cause higher levels of stress in those students – and the knowledge that their parents may be disappointed in their grades did not improve their academic performance.

In fact, criticism by parents caused low self-esteem and declining academic performance.

On the other hand, kids who understood that their parents valued good behaviors – like kindness, cooperation, and good manners – at school more than their grade point averages had higher grades and self-esteem over time.

Also considered was the effect of parents encouraging their child to pursue studies that did not interest them because they thought them to be better indicators of potential future success – being a lawyer or accountant, for example, rather than an artist or musician.

The research showed that when a child is struggling academically, parents should look at all factors of their performance in – and out of – school.

Parental criticism of grades and a child’s interests were perceived by kids as not being valued, and could have serious emotional repercussions.   

A connection was made between high parental expectations in academics and lower social functioning.

Parents who were highly critical of academic performance and highly achievement-oriented, in turn, saw the opposite desired performance in their kids.

Most parents pray that, in the end, our children are healthy, happy, and personally fulfilled in whatever they choose to do with their lives.

We may not realize that our preferences about their grades, interests, and eventual careers can hinder their independence and confidence – two characteristics essential to being a successful adult.

So the next time that report card comes home and your child’s grades are less than stellar, sit down and talk to them about what they’re really interested in, how they feel about school and their peers, and what their ultimate goals are.

Emphasize good character more than good grades, and offer help and support – with their input – on how you can help them succeed at what really matters to them.

While academics are important, all parents can agree that having a child with good self-esteem who is interested in learning for the joy of learning’s sake is the best reward of all.

What do you think about the link between over-emphasis on grades and lower self-esteem?  Leave us your thoughts.