school

Our kids are breaking down and we only have ourselves to blame.

Naplan, selective school placement tests and scholarship exams are about to swing into action across the nation. We are testing our children. Seeing where they come in the academic race compared to their peers. Putting numbers and bar graphs next to seven-year-old names like Liam and Emma and Alfie.

Before we send our kids into fluoro lit classrooms to sit down at rows of single file desks and take these tests we, as parents, are monitoring them. Taking a second look at that Year Three homework book hanging out of their school bag. Saying a silent prayer before we check how they spell whether and hoping they are one of the brilliant ones. Because being brilliant saves you from life’s hardships, doesn’t it?

Surely they would be neater by now?

There’s something up with his capital letters.

When should she be learning the harder times tables?

Louise has her son doing Kumon, maybe we should do it too?

I heard someone talking about that the kids who are on the lowest readers in Kindergarten always stay at the bottom.

Maybe if we just did an extra half hour with her every night …

gilmore girls: a year in the life

'Being brilliant saves you from life's hardships, doesn't it?' Image via Warner Bros. 

I totally understand that we don't want our children to be left behind. I totally understand that the world has changed and we want security for our kids. We want them to be happy, fulfilled and have life choices and often that comes from a good job. And a good job comes from getting ahead at school, and then into a high level university course and then and then ...

And then everybody falls down.

It's hard not to get in the competitive parenting race. The race to get your child ahead academically through tutoring, or extra workbooks at night, or piano lessons (because research somewhere said that proficiency in music is linked to maths ability) or just simply pushing, pushing, pushing, being in deep on this journey with your kid, fixing up that human body assignment because the vascular system is so much more detailed than what Emilia has put on that pink bit of cardboard.

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It's hard to ignore the herds of competitive parents smiling at you as they race past clutching a distinction in the Year Four NSW Universities Test for Science and a high distinction in the Year Two violin exam. They have a 'get ahead' plan for their child. Sometimes they are very open with this "get ahead' plan. Sometimes they pretend they have no clue their child even does tutoring or extra workbooks or that it was them who made that 3D volcano with lava that spilled into a fast flowing river for a geography project (kids talk, they know who in the class is getting extra help).

Watch teachers reveal the most ridiculous things parents have said to them. Post continues after video.

Do you join up? Do you, as a loving parent, join this group that are banging at your door, telling you they can make your child smarter, stronger, better?

Because look at the kids. They're doing so well. They're not struggling to remember to put full stops at the end of a sentence or to name the planets. They know Harry Potter isn't real and are in that gifted group that gets taken out of class twice a week to work on a cure for cancer.

Now have another look.

Maybe you won't see it straight away. Maybe when they're 10 and their afternoons are filled with activities that will get them 'ahead' they are absolutely fine. They smile at you when they want to say Enough, I'm exhausted, I want to spend some time doing absolutely nothing of value like making a milkshake out of weird kitchen stuff that I hope will make my sister vomit. You can't set a child on a rigorous academic 'get ahead' path from the age of four and expect them to keep it up (with no side effects) for the next 15 years. I'm no parenting expert but I can see that is a Herculean task for tiny shoulders. They can't keep up that pace. That expectation. That pressure.

Have a look at the most recent mental health statistics for teens. Obviously there are a variety of reasons that impact on mental health, but surely the relentless pressure from a young age to be an academic success can't be helping things.

In a 2014 World Health Organisation report, Health for the World's Adolescents depression is the main cause of illness and disability for adolescents aged 10 to 19. A 2015 Mission Australia report found that serious mental illness among young people increased between 2012 to 2014 (from 18.2% to 20.0%) and that the issues most young people were 'very' or 'extremely' concerned by were coping with stress, school and study and body image.

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'Have a look at the most recent mental health statistics for teens.' Image via iStock. 

I have children in primary and high school. I've seen the kids who have been pushed and tutored since the early years of primary school (let me be clear: not because they have fallen behind, but because their parents want them to get ahead) and by the time they are in high school they are starting to exhibit signs of exhaustion, frustration and are questioning their parents wants and this intense path they have been put on. Not all, but so many, want out of the race - or at least a break from it - just as others in their class at high school are leaning in.

School is a long game (and anyway, not everyone is destined to be Dux or go to university).

A friend recently told me she feels like she's a bad mother because she doesn't have her six-year-old daughter in tutoring and her daughter is not that great (yet) with school readers. She is in the bottom group at school.

It's her first school aged child and it has taken her 18 months to realise that so many other kids are being tutored - or at the very least made to do their homework every single night and then made to do extra fun spelling, readers and workbooks with mum or dad.

She's gone and bought a workbook for her four-year-old daughter because she doesn't want her to be "behind" next year when she starts school.

There's a difference between your child being behind in a subject and not being able to understand it and therefore investing in helping your child to catch up, and helping your child to get way in front of the class. There's a difference between being fixated on advantage and introducing your child to a love of learning.

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'A friend recently told me she feels like she's a bad mother because she's doesn't have her six-year-old daughter in tutoring.' Image via iStock. 

"The teacher says she's fine, but I should get a tutor for her, shouldn't I?" my friend has asked a few times now.

And this is what I want to say to her.

Your daughter is more than a number or a grade or a percentile. She is more than a distinction or a fail. She is six and she has so much to learn and discover. She has so many games to play that will make her laugh until stuff runs out of her nose. She still giggles uncontrollably when a lady beetle runs up her arm.

She will find her own way and it will be hard sometimes and sometimes it will be brilliant. Most of the time it will be something in the middle.

She will be able to find her way because you gave her the tools to do it herself. By not pushing her to get ahead, you're letting her find her own place. That place is solid and real and hers. She might be average. Happily, contentedly, gloriously average. She might be anything.

She might struggle. Of course you help her then. But if she's not struggling, if this is all to wring out an A instead of a B+? If this is all to get that bit ahead? Who is it making feel good? How long can you keep it up, because once you start.

Watch the herd run right past you and wish them good luck. I think they might need it later.

You don't have to enter the race to win.

Your daughter will not lose at life, because she has you as her mother.