Should we push our children to “succeed”?

As parents I know we all want what is best for our children. We want them to thrive, to be successful, to be happy, to be healthy etc… Pretty standard wishes and expectations for a parent I think. But what about when one comes at the price of the other? Who gets to decide which is more important and which should be prioritised?

Of course, ask any parent and *most* would probably say that mental health is more important than grades, its a fairly common concept. But in reality what does that mean? Define that idea? When children’s mental health is at an all time crisis point, and pressure is not being reduced then who is making the call that mental health matters? So you have a whole year group of young adults due to sit their GCSEs, and the average school day of 9-3 is no longer enough. Additional classes are added to time tables across the country to allow these young people to remain at school until 4:30 for study time. A number of schools have opened up Saturday classes as well, with claims that attendance to these classes is optional followed up by the notification that failure to attend these classes will mean that the children will be unable to attend their senior prom. These additional classes are not there to take away from the regular home work schedule either, they are not instead of, they are completely additional. Other parents where schools are not offering weekend sessions are still expecting their teenagers to work over the weekend to put in that study time. The focus is all on study study study, exams exams exams. So when is the chill time? When is the mental health matters time?

What if the teenager in question is not expected to do well in GCSEs, is it right to apply additional pressure when instead you could be offering support and investigating one of the many alternatives? Is it so bad to reassure teenagers that these grades DO NOT DEFINE THEM?

What about what they WANT to do? If their goal does not require GCSEs, are they not able to be happy working towards that end goal? doing what they enjoy and what makes them happy?

It is the same for our young children. Pre schoolers already under pressure to learn phonics “in preparation”. In preparation for what? They will learn, you can’t learn something in order to be prepared for being developmentally ready to learn it!  Why are parents feeling the pressure to get their 4 year olds learning to read and write?  They have so many years a head of them when “learning” in the educational sense is compulsory, why the need to push anything at all before they are compulsory school age? Let them play, let them be kids rings out across home ed advice groups and forums again and again. Play is the work of children, it is how they learn and develop so many valuable life skills.

Are we as parents really wanting to send out the message to our young people that we don’t believe in them? That we think without our constant pushing and pressuring that they wont “succeed” ?  That we don’t trust them to be able to make decisions about their life and education?  When have they been given the chance to prove themselves ?

And really, what is the worst case scenario here? that they don’t get the grades that in an “ideal world” they would get?  All the stress and pressure in the world wouldn’t guarantee those grades and to be honest there is a whole lot of evidence that would suggest that it has the opposite effect anyway. Perhaps certain grades would make certain pathways easier, but as parents do we really think that there isn’t other ways? Would our young people be any less loved, any less “successful” in our eyes ? Does our view of our children come down to a score on a piece of paper?

When you can drop out of school at 15yrs old and still get your degree, homeowner and self employed. You can get poor GCSE grades be excel in your work role and earn over 60k. You can go to uni, rack up student debt and struggle to find stable employment. A 17 year old can have his GCSEs behind him but have poor independence skills and treat people badly or a 17 yr old with no GCSEs who can work in any number of roles, navigate public transport and house hold chores independently, know how to fill out a tax return and work out mortgage figures and treats people kindly.

I know that I would be far more proud of my children treating those less fortunate with kindness and compassion, being helpful and supportive friends and being caring human beings who think about the world that they live in over some stars on a piece of paper to indicate they did a really good job at memorizing what they were told.

Does the paper speak more loudly than experience, or the heart ? What good is fantastic grades if your ability to think for yourself and use your own initiative is compromised? In an age where news of a 20 year old student can die after eating pasta that has been left out for 5 days I have to ask:

What is success anyway?

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