Sunday, November 8, 2009

Malia's Grades, High Standards, and Tween Stress

Much has been written in recent days about Malia Obama's grades. During a speech President Obama made last week to educators in Wisconsin, he went off script and related a story about First Tween Malia Obama's study habits. He and First Lady Michelle Obama have set high standards in their home for grades, saying the "the goal is 90 percent and up." These standards were communicated to their daughters years ago when Malia brought home a B grade on a test.

The President's goal in relating the story was to reinforce how important it is for parents to set high standards for children. He was proud that Malia has internalized these high standards and told the audience that she recently got a 73 on a science test and "felt depressed" by the grade. She said followed the study guide, but that alone was not enough. Rather than get discouraged by this experience, Malia resolved to study harder.

A few days later, Malia earned a 95 on a test in that same science class. While that grade was what she and the President wanted, what made him more proud was her saying that she "just liked having knowledge".

This story is an interesting contrast at a time when researchers are finding that the current generation (often referred to as Millennials or "Generation Next") has been raised expecting praise and validation for ANY effort. Millennials are born between 1982 and 2000 and technically includes Malia Obama (who was born in 1998). The President's call to set and maintain very high standards for our kids is a refreshing message to the take-easy-road mentality that is often portrayed as realistic paths in media today.

At the same time, tweens today are more stressed than ever. A study released last week by the American Psychological Association shows that tweens experience great stress due to "school pressure and family finances", and that most parents underestimate the amount of stress their child is under. Not managing this stress now can lead to serious long-term health implications according to the study's doctors.

As all parents try to do, we are constantly working to strike a balance between motivating and supporting our tweens. We set high academic standards, but we are also constantly looking for signs of stress in our daughters. Tweens are at an age where social pressures begin in earnest and physical and emotional growth occurs at a rapid pace. Sometimes we have to cut the the girls a little slack, and a B grade is perfectly okay.

How do you strike this balance? Is expecting A's of your children realistic or a no-brainer? How do you handle it when a lower grade comes home? Are your tweens stressed, or are they blissfully unaware? Please post your comments below.

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