Tag Archives: New Yorker

How can good grades be bad?

When it comes to grades, sometimes it’s harder to parent a child who consistently gets good grades than a child who under-achieves. Let’s hop into the way-back machine so I can explain using my own experience as a mediocre student as an example.

I regularly brought home disappointing grades. My mother would say things like, “You’re not working hard enough,” or, “Perhaps you should spend less time watching television and more time studying.” My mother knew the basic message she had to deliver to me; work harder, or else.

My older sister, on the other hand, was an earnest, hard-working student. And the oldest, I think we can agree, is traditionally burdened with higher expectations than the middle child (me). On the oh-so-rare occasion that she brought home a disappointing grade she would be devastated, and my mom would soothe her and say, “Oh honey, it’s only a C. It doesn’t matter.”

My own daughter, my only daughter, is cursed with the high performance expectations of the oldest child, exacerbated by the unwanted attention that an only gets. Much to her dismay, we expect her to get good grades. On the rare occasion that she brings home a disappointing grade, we are, well, disappointed. Had I not been trotting along behind my older sister, sprinkling bad grades behind her, my mother might not have had the perspective to say to her first-born, “There, there. It doesn’t matter.”

My child is plagued by one other difference; she doesn’t appear to work terribly hard to get her good grades. I say “appear,” because on this point our realities differ. How do you tell a child that gets excellent grades that they should work harder?

A recent New Yorker had a piece about the value, or lack thereof, of homework. They claimed that studies show that doing homework, or not, doesn’t have much of an impact on grades. If that’s true, then maybe my daughter doesn’t need to work harder. But while homework may sometimes include the directive to study, studying should not be restricted to homework assignments.

The fact that we expect our daughter to perform well in school doesn’t have any impact on how we feel when she does. But like the Gary Larson cartoon where the dog only hears “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger,” all our daughter hears is criticism. When report cards came out for the first time this school year, my husband and I went to great lengths to let our daughter know how proud we were. We’re learning, slowly but surely, that even if expectations align with reality, we should take nothing for granted. Even so, I doubt my daughter will ever hear me say, “It’s only a C. It doesn’t matter,” not, anyway, until I hear it from my mom.