This year, my eldest son skipped seventh grade. This is more distressing to people not in our inner family circle than it is to us personally. Social acquaintances like to express their opinions, which range from the curious to the insulting. To some people my son is a novelty, a social experiment, or the result of pushy over-parenting. All he is really is a kid who doesn’t want to be bored, and in my personal experience, bored children get into all sorts of trouble that I’d prefer to minimize as much as possible—just ask my mother.
What’s interesting is that the questions mostly revolve about how much my son may not fit into the average bubble, from height curves and puberty to sports performance. The problem with this line of questioning is that it assumes that left in his current grade level, he would achieve the status quo at more or less the same time as everyone else, and that that would be best. The hole in that thinking is that unlike driving privileges, puberty doesn’t adhere to a set time frame.
Some of my friends got their periods in fifth grade. Some of them didn’t menstruate until they were sixteen. Some boys shaved in 8th grade, others escaped high school without wearing out a single razor. What level math class they took did not have any effect on this as far as I am aware.
My elder sister is 4’9” and my elder brother is 6’9” tall. Neither of them fit within a standard deviation for height. Certainly, being outliers on the height spectrum in opposite directions effected their lives to a degree, but no one suggested that my sister remain in elementary school until she grew taller. If they had, she’d still be there. My brother started to show signs of his extreme height in sixth grade, but no one recommended an intervention to advance him to his height-appropriate grade level. Also, although both are extremes, I think it’s fair to say that they both have happy and fulfilling lives.
But sports! Sports! What about sports? It is true that our decision for LJ to skip seventh grade has likely doomed his basketball career. Luckily, he doesn’t particularly like basketball. We have a basketball hoop in our driveway that hasn’t been used in two years—in fact the garden has overtaken it and no one minds. But think about it for a minute. Isaiah Thomas is 5’9” and a professional basketball player. Our last school had a sixth grade girl on the boys’ varsity team. Sports ability isn’t always synchronous either.
My son runs cross country, and that team is not grade dependent. He also plays baseball. My son will always be the kid that dives for the ball, listens to coaches, and tries his hardest, no matter what team he is on. Varsity and JV are not grade dependent, and besides, who he is as an eleven-year-old doesn’t guarantee his sports ability in the future. Think about it—what if I didn’t allow my son to advance academically because I wanted to protect his baseball career, and then he got injured, lost interest, or was never good enough to make the team anyway?
Social ostracism is a major concern of my acquaintances. Of course I don’t want my son bullied. However, I’m having a little faith in humanity: both in his new classmates, and the school system’s anti-bullying policy. But I challenge each of my questioners to think back on their own high school years as well as to look at their friends now. I hung out with people from all four grades in high school. My SigO is several years older than me, and my current best friends are between three and ten years younger than me. The majority of my son’s friends are a year behind him in school, and that’s fine. He has found people to eat lunch with and he should be paying attention during class anyway.
As for dating, he’s not interested. He may never be interested. He doesn’t have to go two-by-two through the world—he’s not on Noah’s Ark. If he wants to date, there is no law about what grade his love interest has to be in. I don’t think I ever dated anyone in my grade in my entire life. It’s not like a wall separates kids by grade and they are regulated to only date people who have study hall at 2:00 pm or first period lunch.
But I’m weary of being on the defensive. Here’s what I wish people would ask:
1. What process did you go through to accelerate your son?
I love this question because I am so incredibly impressed with the school and the mandatory state assessment process. The professional educators put a lot of thought into the decision making process. Besides the academic testing, we discussed my child’s temperament, social skills, birth order and grade level of siblings, where he fell on the height chart and how we will deal with driving and college in the distant but fast-approaching future. We were asked to consider how we will feel when our precious son could wind up sitting next to sixteen year olds in math class next year, and what conversations he might over hear. (The last bit did strike terror in my heart, I won’t lie.)
2. What research did you do to decide that this was best for your child?
Part of my defensiveness arises from the assumption that I made this decision blindly. When the gifted coordinator suggested grade-skipping, I went into full-on research mode. I talked to adults who skipped grades as children, and parents of children who skipped grades. I asked the opinion of teachers from many grade levels. I read everything I could find on the internet. I spoke to the head coach of my son’s little league team who is also the varsity baseball coach of the high school my son will attend. Coincidentally, his own daughter skipped a grade and played sports, so he was a wealth of information. I researched colleges even though my son is only eleven. And I talked to my son. A lot.
3. How does your son feel about it?
He’s incredibly proud of himself. This was his decision. He was worried about leaving his friends behind, but in the end decided that he didn’t want to be bored in class. He has gone to a different school than many of his friends for his whole life, so the idea that his friends will be in a different grade at school isn’t that perplexing to him. He’s just happy to see them in the halls at school and milling about outside beforehand.
He’s a little stressed, because he started a new school in addition to skipping a grade, but he is generally happy and feels he made the right decision. We talk daily about school, friends, life on a deeper level than we had previously. The process has helped me to know my son better and made us closer.
4. What can we do to help?
Please realize that my son’s grade acceleration doesn’t mean that I think he is better than your son. My child has asynchronous development. His needs are different, that’s all. Please don’t make me feel as if I need to bring up all his faults to prove that I know that he isn’t perfect. When it comes to sports, music, and art, we accept that a kid can be really great in one area, not so great in another area, and just average in most things. Academics are the same. He’s still just a kid who hates chores and wants to sleep in and stay up late and all that other stuff.
Keep raising your beautiful, sweet children. On LJ’s first day, a couple of kids saw him eating lunch alone and joined him. They have gone out of their way to introduce him to other kids and include him in conversations. The reaction of his fellow students has renewed my faith in humanity. I’m so impressed with these kids that I’d like to hug their parents or bake them cookies. Truly.