Why Your Kid Doesn’t Deserve an “A”

Val Curtis

Does that seem a little harsh? Honestly, I am OK with it making you uncomfortable because I want to have a conversation about something that is making me nervous for our country and our younger generations.

An “A” stands for excellence, not just doing the work. You don’t “get” a grade, you earn it and to earn it, you need to be really good at whatever you are doing. We have over-inflated the system.

When I was a teacher, I would create rubrics for our projects that told the students how to earn a “B” and my students had to figure out how to take it to the next level to earn an “A.” That meant they needed a strong understanding of the project and its goals to push to the next level.  I would have parents at my classroom door and in my inbox, furious with me because their student worked so hard on a project and received a “B.” I would always respond, “They did a really fantastic job and worked really hard for that ‘B.’ You should be proud.” Grades are not gifts.

When I was an undergrad, one of the grades I was the proudest of was a “B” in Cell Biology. Why? It was because I knew most students had to work their tails off for a “C.” There was no shame in a “B,” it was an achievement that required nightly study groups for hours and lots of organization and asking questions when I didn’t completely understand a concept.

When grades were posted with our names next to them, it made me want to work harder in order to do better. Oftentimes, I was in the middle of the curve and I wanted more. Did it make me sad at times? You betcha, but that is OK.

When my team lost, it meant that I had to work harder and practice more to sharpen my skills and be ready.

When we become so concerned with the end product, we lose the effort and talent that it takes to get there. Everyone just wants the reward without the journey and failure that produces it.

Failure is OK. Why? Because it pushes us to do better and learning how to lose teaches us how to cope with failure. When you learn how to cope with failure, you learn how to be confident in your power to change your personal circumstance. Not your mom. Not your dad. Not your teacher. Not your coach. You.

Have you ever felt humiliated? It happens and it isn’t fun, but it happens and we find our way out of it through personal growth and by our family and friends assuring us that we are better than that situation. We fail and those around us help bring our spirits up and then we get back in the game.

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These are examples I have heard in the last week:

  • Baseball teams asking umps to yell “1-2-3 Good job!” instead of “You’re Out!”
  • On the east coast, a football league decided that a team couldn’t score more than 3 TD’s more than the other team. If #4 was about to be scored, the player had to stop at the 1-yard line and the next play was a kickoff.
  • Every team receiving trophies at the end of the season.
  • Parents calling professors to argue about grades.
  • HR departments doubling and tripling in size because employees can’t take criticism from their bosses.

Recently, I was criticized for always beating my kids at games. I wasn’t letting them win. Guess what? Your kids KNOW when you are letting them win and it doesn’t feel as good as when they KNOW they really beat you. Also, we can model what it looks like to win and be humble.

My husband and I are trying to teach our kids to give everything their best effort. Sometimes that results in a win or an “A,” but when it doesn’t, we assure them that this is the experience that we WANT them to have.

You lost that game? Good. What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about your team? What did you see the other team do that made them more successful? What can you work on? Endurance? Skills? Communication?

You missed 5 problems on your math test? Let’s look at what happened there. You didn’t understand the concept? You went too fast and made silly mistakes? You need more practice?

We live in a world that is more competitive than ever and we are giving every child a gold star and a trophy because each special, little snowflake is a winner just for showing up. What is the end result? Mediocrity and a generation without drive. We are parenting on a stage, sharing every little achievement on social media and in the process, we are removing all of life’s wrinkles for our kids by micro-managing their experiences into candy-coated wins at every turn. And remember, this isn’t OUR competition, it is our kids’ opportunity to learn.

Parents are removing naturally occurring failure.  It is OK not to be AWESOME at everything. Stop forcing your kids to do things that they aren’t passionate about and take the time to figure out where their passions lie. Respect, admiration and appreciation for others is an important part of being a community member. Everyone has a different gift to offer and acknowledging our own strengths and weaknesses helps us appreciate what those around us bring to the table.

Let’s empower our children to experience failures and to learn from them. They CAN be anything they want to be when they grow up, but they need to understand that it will take work, talent, practice, effort and sometimes failure and disappointment. If they want that “A,” they will need to work for it.

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What does it mean to get an "A"?

This post was written by Val Curtis exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC. No part may be copied without expressed permission.

Val is the Editor-in-chief of BonBon Break. A former middle school science/math/tech teacher, she put her career on hold to be at home with her son and daughter on an island in the Pacific Northwest. When Val breaks away from her keyboard, she enjoys gardening, cooking, hiking, camping, photography, tidepooling, sailing and potlucks. She gets a kick out of combing the web for recipes and making them gluten free so she can share meals with her husband, family and friends. She is a tech-gadget geek who is poked fun at, but it doesn’t bother her a bit. Combining her love of photography, tech and graphics to create new, fun content for BonBon Break quenches her “thirst” for integrated technology.