• Lori Turner

Failing the Perfect Grade

Updated: May 21

Failing the Perfect Grade by Lori Turner

Covid-19 is not just a pandemic that has caused a worldwide health crisis, it has also caused a nasty side effect in the United States- a parent academic pandemic! Just like when someone unintentionally walks into a freshly cleaned glass door, the school year ended abruptly flat on its back with a bleeding, broken nose. Some parents are taking this quarantine opportunity in stride as time to spend with family. Bike rides, gardening, strolls with the dog, and maybe some cooking lessons as schedules have come to a standstill. It is a stressful time when people are stuck at home waiting to hear when it will be safe to return to work and earn a living. Patience is a commodity. Meanwhile, in other households, parents known as tiger parents, are not so happy being thrust into homeschooling their little darlings. They are ferociously (pun intended) finding ways of pushing kids back into an academic regime worthy of a country located on the Northern half of the Korean Peninsula. A high achieving child must not fall behind at all costs. Otherwise, what is the alternative? Most parents would agree they are pleased when a child exhibits positive qualities of self-direction and motivation when it comes to school and other pursuits. Parents don’t have to put a tracking device in a backpack or throw an Xbox out into the street trying to get homework completed with an overachiever. However, there is a fine line between achievement and perfectionism, and once that line is crossed, it can lead to stress, disappointment, and miss the enjoyment of being a child all together if not careful. There is nothing wrong with a child or a parent expecting to be the best at something. Perfect grades should be celebrated, but what happens when a perfectionist gets their first bad one?

High achievers can be described as having focus, drive, ambition, tenacity, and are goal-oriented. These

are positive personality traits that can lead to excellence. Perfectionists have high standards, are also highly organized, and sometimes rely on rituals to meet all tasks they have set for themselves. This is why grades are so appealing to young perfectionists. Grades represent an obtained goal, and the visual effect of consistent scores makes them feel good about themselves. Perfectionists work in a way that drives other people crazy. They are very methodical, and if something doesn’t go the way they planned, they criticize everyone around them, but worst of all, themselves. Control can work in both positive and negative ways, but when something is completely out of their hands, the inner dialog can go to a very negative place. Where does all of this perfectionism manifest from? Amanda Knight, a mother of 5, is concerned her 14-year-old is a perfectionist. “I believe my daughter was triggered into becoming a perfectionist by falling behind in school one year. The workload was very overwhelming, and she feared having to repeat a grade. She never wanted to put herself in that position again, so now she puts everything into her studies and dance only to feel exhausted and tired many evenings.” Many perfectionists remember their first bad grade and it was in college. “I flunked Organic Chemistry twice and Cobalt all in the same semester, and these were required classes for my degree. I was upset, but the worst part was telling my parents,” said Stephanie Schulz. Children who put such pressures on themselves are missing out on what is supposed the most carefree time of their lives. Grades, marks, percentages, perfect ball catches, and dance moves replace friends, getting dirty, and overall childhood experiences. Being a perfectionist at such an early age doesn’t sound joyful and, like Schulz, causes anxiety beyond the grade school years.

How are kids growing up today compared to 20-30 years ago? Today schools and parents are pumping out child perfectionists like Jack Daniels Whiskey is making hand sanitizer during a pandemic. If the pandemic had not hit so fast and furious, kids would still be in school. After school facing hours of homework, participating in sports, tutoring, music lessons, or anything else that fancies their interests. Dinner, chores, and it’s time to go to bed. Some will go back to homework until they can’t keep their eyes open any longer. Next day repeat. Each day after day has structure. What happened to free time after school, knocking on the neighbor’s door, and riding bikes around the neighborhood? Getting dirty, skinned knees, and playing in the back yard is just what the old-timers did. Long gone are those leisure days, and schools are supporting this notion by getting rid of recess and filling every minute with academia. There is no time to rest, play, or think for themselves. Overnight an anxious, stressed-out child not enjoying life is created. However, they do have perfect grades because that is what is important about childhoods- good grades, and not messing around. Really?

Once a high achiever/perfectionist reaches graduation and goes off to college it can really shake them to their core if they don’t get what they want. This is their wakeup call. No longer safe in their hometown, with parents around watching from the comfort of their own home, this perfect adult child is thrust into an unfamiliar environment. College can be stifling to a perfectionist. Whether it be the workload, unfamiliar surroundings, or uncaring professors, it’s just very unrealistic to be perfect and it hits them hard. What has served well as a child leads to burn out and frustration in those early adult years because they don’t know how to adjust at college. Some manage to stick it out, find out who they really are, make themselves sick, or revert to immature behavior. It’s disappointing, after all of the heartache and effort, they will not reach their full potential while missing out on their one and only childhood.

Parents carry a heavy burden upon their shoulders when a child has unrealistic expectations and freaks out. “Was I a bad parent? Did I expect too much? Why are they putting so much pressure on themselves?” Once a parent recognizes the high achiever is crossing over into perfectionism, it’s time to have a talk. Let them know that nothing is perfect and they can’t control when mistakes are going to happen. Embrace changes and stop focusing on one way. Trust unexpected experiences are normal and focus on the big picture. Don’t let one bad grade ruin an entire childhood that should be spent with normal experiences such as hanging out with friends and playing outside. There are plenty of adults out there experiencing stress and children do not need to join in. Failing the perfect grade is not the end of the world.

Do you remember your first bad grade?