03/08/2012 05:21 EST | Updated 05/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Hold Them Back So They Can Get Ahead


It's called "redshirting." Perhaps you have heard of it.

The debate is an old one, but still relevant. Parents are holding their kids back in record numbers, often to give them a competitive advantage over their peers. It's the slight competitive edge that they get as the oldest child in the grade versus being the youngest. In fact, after watching a 60 Minutes segment ( this past Sunday night on redshirting kindergarten, I wanted to write about it to get your take on it.

If you read the only comment below the full 13 minute CBS segment on YouTube, you'll see this: "Holden Corby is the lucky one. A parent with both the common sense and the Intelligence to understand nonsense when she hears it. What I hear in Barrett's mother's voice is that famous "high rising terminal" in her speech made famous by Valley Girls and other superficial, not-so-deep thinkers. Kindergarten is the introductory lesson to life at school and getting along with other kids. Kindergarten is not a place where the school plays host to a parent's vicarious ambitions."

Ouch. Obviously, this is only one person's opinion.

You see, I have a child who is relevant to the discussion. He was born right at the cut-off, and was the youngest in his grade. As he entered preschool at three, then preschool again at four, then kindergarten at five, my husband and I asked the professionals the same question every year, "Should we hold him back? Is he ready?" We had no interest in giving him a competitive advantage over his peers, we just wanted to make sure he could keep up socially, emotionally and academically. They gave us the same answer every year, "While perhaps he is a little less socially mature than his peers at the beginning of the school year, he is one of our brightest students in the class, so we feel if you hold him back, you will be doing him a great disservice academically. He will be bored and unchallenged." And so we listened.

Today at 8 1/2 years old, he is still at the top of his class academically, but I can tell you, he's not as socially mature as his peers. He's been known to suck his thumb a time or two, and he is still very attached to us. But, he makes the A team in sports, he's got a ton of friends, and seems to fit right in with his 3rd grade peers.

Did we make the right decision? Who knows? Had we held him back, would he have been more confident? Maybe. Would he have excelled more at sports? Perhaps. Would he have been smarter in school? Doubtful. Would he have had a better advantage in life? We'll never know. What we do know, is that he's thriving, and we have never looked back. But parents are doing whatever it takes to make sure their kids do have that life advantage. And believe me, I do get it.

Malcolm Gladwell, famous for his work in this area, and author of one of my favourite books, The Outliers, discussed the cold hard facts last night on the 60 Minutes segment. He explains, for example, a very significant number of NHL hockey players are born in January, February and March -- the closest to the January 1st NHL cutoff date, and therefore the oldest in their hockey year. He claims there is no coincidence... the older kids are bigger, faster, better, and more physically, and emotionally developed. Their age and size give them an advantage over the other players, which then slots them more frequently in the AAA teams. They then receive more ice time, better training, better coaching, and are groomed at an overall far superior level than their younger peers. Gladwell claims this difference makes all the difference, and this advantage follows them year after year, even in academics. It is quite striking to see the stats on paper. Sidney Crosby, and most hockey greats, are born in the 1st quarter of the year. Makes you wonder.

So my question today is to get your view on the debate. Would you redshirt your child to give them an advantage? And if so, on what some claim? Is it an advantage that carries past kindergarten? Have you redshirted your child? Did you opt out like I did? Are you on the fence? I'd love your side on this debate.