Does Getting Good Grades Harm Student Health?

Recently, I have spoken to a number of my therapist friends who are claiming that getting good grades is harming kids' health. These therapists are noticing a rise in the number of kids who are suffering from anxiety disorders and depression that they believe are related to expectations for getting high grades and doing well on tests. If small pockets of therapists in the same local areas are seeing the same thing, it is probably fairly common across the nation?

With a focus on getting kids into certain schools and prestigious colleges later on, are we becoming a nation of "tiger moms," who push our children to excel, no matter what the cost?

While some parents may be aware of how hard they drive their kids in terms of getting good grades, other parents are less conscious of how hard they drive their kids. For instance, I recently attended a parenting conference where a mom (of Asian descent) and speaker told a long-winded and very energetic story about how her son refused his parents' help in studying for his finals and chose instead to study in his own way. The story revealed the mother's great anxiety that her child might fail his finals which in her culture and family meant getting an "Asian 'F.'" (An Asian "F" is a "B" in our culture.) At the end of the story, this mom admitted her great relief that despite using different study methods, in the end, her son earned all A's. The point of her speech was that her son could study differently than she and her husband, but still meet high family expectations. What this woman didn't recognize is how the demands that she places on her child could push him to have a breakdown

getting good grades

This is exactly what is happening in Japan, where some children feel such strong pressure that they withdraw completely from society, taking their meals in their bedrooms and coming out only to use the bathroom.

Although there's nothing wrong with getting good grades, there is something wrong when the pressure to do so teaches a child that he is valued solely for his performance. A strong focus on grades to the exclusion of everything else sends a child this message: we value you only when you do well. This puts parents in an endless loop where their sense of self is dependent upon their child's ability to do well or get into a certain college.

In the group of mental health professionals I know, one therapist shared that some of her clients pay for their children to attend tutoring sessions every day after school from nursery school on in order to get a coveted spot at a private grammar school. According to her, the children of these clients are unhappy and this shows itself in their behavior. In many cases, this anxiety and sense of dissatisfaction these kids have with life will eventually lead to childhood depression and perhaps even a lifelong struggle with this disease. Depression is a rising trend in the world today; it has been predicted that in the next 5 years, it will increase from the fourth most common illness to the second.

Does this mean that parents should relax their emphasis on children getting good grades? Perhaps. The first thing to look is your child and how or she operates. Kids are motivated in different ways. Some kids push themselves and love to do well in school (I was one of these students), while others need to be motivated by parents and external rewards. (See Should Parents Pay Kids for Getting Good Grades?) An educated guess here tells me that it is the second group that we need to be more concerned about because they're not naturally compliant or motivated from within to excel in academics. The first group, however, is most likely to feel that that their identity revolves around doing well in academics.

I think it's important to understand that while every child is a natural born student, some children do not do well in an academic environment especially when there is too much focus on getting good grades, busy work that has no relevance to real life or when the teacher or parents are focused primarily on measuring kids based on grades and test scores. I'm guessing that you'll agree with me when I say that the most important lessons we learn in life are usually in the area of life skills: learning to get along with others, to share, to think about problems critically, entertain creative solutions, and to negotiate solutions that are forward-thinking and benefit everyone involved. It's probably more important for us to give attention to our children's ability to cultivate these qualities than their ability to score high on a test.

Unfortunately, our schools are sorely lacking in the area of teaching life skills because they're too focused on teaching kids to do well on certain tests. Part of the difficulty is that every student is treated as a potential academic. Some kids are more suited to vocational occupations and can create good lives for themselves if they are allowed to pursue their fascinations, rather than feeling insecure about their inability to solve a Trig problem.

There are some basic skills though that every child must learn. For instance, most kids graduate from high school without being taught how to balance a checkbook, let alone with the ability to focus on an issue and use creative/critical thinking skills to overcome challenges and come up with solutions. The ability to memorize and regurgitate verbatim facts that one can easily look up when needed on the internet does not translate into success in life or business, but teaching a child how to think and get along with others does.

Getting good grades no longer guarantees a child's future. Yes, your child may get into a good college, but will he get a job? There are increasing numbers of college students with advanced degrees who cannot find positions in their area of study.

So what's the answer? In my mind and in my own family, the path has not always been clear, but I've found that by encouraging my boys interests (which I talk about in my book, Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom and Parenting), supporting their relationships, what they learn from their experiences and championing their discoveries about how strong, smart and creative they are becoming has led them to be resilient kids who believe in themselves and care about others. Ultimately, this will lead them to meaningful work that is rooted deeply in their values and dreams for a better world and will allow themselves to support themselves and their families in comfort.

Copyright © by Laura Ramirez. All rights reserved.

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Related Reading on Getting Good Grades:

Teen Motivation

Getting Good Grades - Teen Parenting

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