Redshirting, from the Other Side
I hear a lot about people holding their kids, particularly boys, out of school for an extra year. My son should be going to kindergarten next year and I wonder if I should consider this? What do you think about this trend? Do you have any experience with it that you can share since your kids are older now?
I remember when I was a kid, skipping grades in school was a big deal. My mother had skipped two grades and when I was poised to go into kindergarten early and then asked to skip first grade, my mother steadfastly refused. She believed that being developmentally ready was more important. At the time I remember family and friends being outraged. How could she hold me back? She was stifling my future! Skipping grades would give me an advantage!
Oh, how the pendulum has swung. School has changed. No longer are kids skipped ahead. Now, many people are holding their kids out of school for a year in order to gain an advantage or a leg up on their peers. Not because they think their child isn’t ready, but because they think that holding them out an extra year will turn them into a leader, an athletic phenom among their peers, or automatically qualify them for gifted programs at school.
Redshirting was a term used to describe college athletes sitting out their freshman season of athletics so that they could maintain their four-year eligibility while getting in more practice and becoming stronger. It is now used to describe the act of holding children out of kindergarten, though they fall within the age for starting.
Typically it is boys who are held back. And the children that I have personally known, have autumn birthdays in states where the age cut-off is January 1st, which means the child spends the first four months of kindergarten as a 4 year old.
Contrary to what the popular media would tell you, I know no one who did it for athletic reasons. To suggest that is the primary reason parents are holding back their sons is silly. Anyone with kids who play sports knows that until high school the cut-off is based on birthday, not your grade in school. I would hope that most parents realize you are far more likely to be eligible for a scholarship based on grades than you are based on athletic ability. I read a statistic recently that said less than 1% of high school athletes will be offered scholarships based on their sport.
I will admit that I don’t quite understand the motivation of the parents who are holding their kids back a year when they would already be the oldest ones in the class. I wonder if it begins to infect communities where parents hear of one kid being held back and then worry their own child will be at a disadvantage and so hold him back, and a cycle begins. At some point you have to wonder where the line is that crosses from an advantage to disadvantage. I happen to think that it would be damaging to be the biggest and most mature, and possibly boring if the child is catching on to material that is being taught quicker that the rest of the class.
Having said all of that, I have three boys whom I “redshirted.”
I think my story is fairly typical and so I will share it.
We lived in a state where the age cut off was January 1st. My oldest son is born in mid-November. (My other sons late November and mid-December) And though academically he could have done kindergarten–he was already a proficient reader– socially he was not at all ready. He was a very immature four year old. And he would have remained a four year old for half of the school year. Kindergarten has become a very academic endeavor. In the area where we lived, it was a common practice for parents to hold back boys who had late fall birthdays.
But what happens as the years pass? I never really hear people talk about this. What about redshirting from the other side of the equation, when these boys are getting ready to graduate and move on to college. Six, eight, ten years later are the parents still happy with their decision?
Well, thus far I have not heard a single parent complain that they should have sent their child to school earlier. Not one. I have heard a few people express regret for not holding their sons back, always for social reasons, not academic. Not one has mentioned athletics or physical size.
I now have a 17 year old who is almost done with his junior year of high school. Had he not been redshirted, he would be heading off to college in the fall. That is crazy for me to even think about. It has only been very recently that he has stepped out of the self-centeredness that is the hallmark of teenage years. It is only in the past month or so that I have seen a real burst of maturity and had the feeling that he was able to think of other people aside from himself. My relationship with him is changing. He isn’t as intent on pulling away or rebelling, instead he asks for advice on things. He is growing to be independent.
I can now say that without a doubt, I would not feel comfortable sending him off to college in a few months. This extra year of development is critical, I believe. It is a time to loosen the reins of parenting and let him experience more freedoms, choices, and consequences before the stakes are too high. Maybe there are some kids who are ready to leave home at 17, but mine is not one of them.
Recent studies have shown that teens do not use the frontal cortex of their brain, the area that is responsible for planning and reasoning, the way that adults do. They do not think through the consequences of their actions the way that adults do. Anyone who has ever parented a teenager and asked them, “What were you thinking?” knows this to be true. They don’t know what they were thinking. Their brains are still immature and developing. They believe themselves invincible. I suppose once upon a time these were good evolutionary traits, but now, not so much.
Did I even think about this when he was four years old and I was unsure about whether or not to send him to kindergarten? No, I did not.
I am not sure that had someone brought it up to me I would have even been able to fathom what a 17 year old was like developmentally or emotionally. The only reference I had at that point was my own teenage years and, in my early twenties, I wasn’t that far removed from seventeen. I would have thought seventeen, eighteen, what’s the difference? It is only upon viewing the teenage years from the perspective of parenting that I realize how slowly they mature into adults. They physically look like adults way before their brains catch up.
So the advice I usually give to people, when they ask me, is if you think your child is ready, the school thinks your child is ready, AND they will be 18 years old before they head off to college, send them to school.
The irony of the redshirt debate is that the age cut-off for school varies widely depending on the state in which you live. Three years ago we moved to another state. What is redshirting in one state, is not in another.
My boys are no longer redshirted.
What do you think about the whole redshirt debate? Do you think people should just send their children when the cut-off is and stop obsessing? Do you think parents should be able to decide when they want their children to begin school even if it means they are two years older then their peers?
Published April 13, 2012. Last updated April 30, 2018.