Playing the numbers game

I never told my kids I expected straight As from them. I’m not sure whether this is a good, bad or better thing. 

I just want them to do their best. 

I suppose the next obvious question is: How do I measure their best, exactly? Admittedly, I haven’t come up with a system yet. 

All I know is that during their elementary years I wanted to focus less on the goal of a number or letter grade and more on values. 

My role was making sure they were loved and provided for; theirs was learning compassion for their fellow classmates, respect for their teachers and diligence in getting their work done. 

How quickly merely sitting in your seat and keeping your hands to yourself becomes unimpressive! 

Distracted from my ideals

In middle school, the value of being a good kid or a kind one dissipates in the face of a computerized matrix of daily grades. My district’s well-equipped system has become a bit of a contributor to this. 

I started to feel like a wide-eyed crazy lady who totally forgot her earlier ideals. 

Instead of asking who sat with them at their lunch table, like my tendency once was, I’d ask: Why did you forget to turn in that assignment? or Why did you get that grade? Did you not understand something? Do you need help studying?

It’s difficult not to get caught up in the numbers. The online school grading system is like a serpent in the garden, luring me in to take one more look

Academic pressures

Because I’m in the middle of parenting a forgetful, teenage boy, I continually remind myself that the numbers don’t make him who he is as a person. 

I urge him, like I always have, to stay the course, ask for help when he needs it — and for goodness sake — turn in your work! 

But no matter how altruistic my ideals are, the fact remains: He’s being measured by his numbers.

High school has made him sensitive to numbers, too. He looks at his percentages before his exams knowing that a lower grade could affect his GPA — yet another number. 

It’s hard not to parent accordingly. If he doesn’t turn an assignment in, do I begin taking away social privileges? 

It’s difficult to gauge what he says he’s done with assignments that are in the system, but haven’t been graded (and look like they’re missing).  

And now college

This past fall my son took the PSAT. For months, he was asking me: What’s my score? What number did I get? 

Before his test results became available to me, I already knew he did well because of the college envelopes that started showing up in the mail. (Apparently they like certain numbers, too.) 

I guess he is realizing these are his numbers. 

I know this, too. But somehow, the fact that he’s starting to ask changes things. Does this mean I can hand over the worry that A Mom Who Hopes carries so well?

With every invitation to subscribe to more information about these prospective colleges, we have new numbers to look at. How many miles from home? And the inevitable, HOW MUCH a year?

It can be easy to get carried away, so I try instead to focus on how I can respond now. I reiterate to him when he’s had a bad test: When you’re all grown up, no one is going to ask you about that honors French test you took your sophomore year. 

They’re going to look at how hard you work, the positive communication you maintain with your bosses and your ability to collaborate with your coworkers. 

Then I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe I had the right idea all along. 

Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband, and daughter and son, ages 12 and 15. Send comments, questions and story ideas to