Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Relative Age in Adolescence: Helping Teens Find Their Place





 For the Right Reasons

“Redshirting?” I sat across from the principal’s desk and tried to pick my jaw up from the floor. Keeping my composure, I asked,  “You believe that I want my son to repeat a grade because of football?” I had never heard the term red-shirting before and my son didn’t play football, but because we now resided in a school district that touted the "worlds most winning" coach ( John McKissik ) my parental intentions were being questioned.

For me it wasn’t about ‘redshirting’ at all. I wanted my son to repeat a grade because of the ‘Relative Age Effect.’ 
I had known a few families who had chosen to keep their child back at Kindergarten and at the time I believed it was because of college athletic aspirations.  That to me was ‘Redshirting.’  None of my children had birthdays that fell near the cut off line and we weren’t concerned with college athletic aspirations. I had never considered the effect of relative age and the school cut off date until our last child was born in early August. 






What is the Relative Age Effect?


Relative Age Effect is the idea that the grouping of children by age related cut offs causes a variance in maturity level that effects both their physical, social and academic performances. For example: If a class of children are grouped by birth dates relative to a cut off date of September 1 (born between Sept 1st and Aug 31st of the next year) then the children born in September will have a one year advantage. The effect is even more pronounced in boys who traditionally take longer to mature (Rober Barnsley, 1988.) 

Long Term Effects

My experience has been that the school system does not and cannot consider what is best for your child.  Each time I approached a principal or teacher concerning holding my son back I was told that he it was best to place them with intellectual peers. He would do fine.  Never mind the behavioral, emotional and social problems he encountered from his "intellectual peers." They seemed to only be concerned with his test scores. In grades K-2 he was “Gifted” but by 3rd grade he according to one teacher destined for “a life of drug abuse”.  In grades 4-6 we attended counseling and used medication only to have his self esteem spiral down.  Having him repeat a grade has helped improve socialization skills, excel academically, and develop a healthy self-esteem. Our families experience has made me consider why the school system wants to push our children through the system? Isn’t a well-rounded healthy student more valuable to society than one who continually struggles?

Relative Age and the Classroom

It is important to understand that the relative age effects are long-term and often the result of subjective judgment from teachers who are stressed by class size, political restraints such as “No Child Left Behind,” and many other factors. It is up to the parents to make the decision on what is best for their child. Parents know their child's situation and family history better than anyone. Parents should take counsel for their child but ultimately it is the parents choice as to what is best for their child's development. 


Consider a few of these statistics concerning relative age in an adolescents life.


Relative age:
  • Directly influences middle and high school test scores, (Bedard and Dhuey, Persistence).
  • Has a causal effect in the decreased taking of college entrance exams and/or college attendance  (Bedard and Dhuey, Persistence). 
  • Effects play a critical role in a child’s development of social, emotional, and academic skill (Bedard and Dhuey, Persistence).
  • Studies show that youth suicide in Canada showed higher rates for the relatively younger half of the school cohort (Thompson, Battle,)
  • Studies show that younger students participate less often in athletic or social gatherings and are less likely to have love relationships (Bellari and Pellizzari, The Younger)
  • Studies show that “Having older peers …increases the likelihood of being retained, being referred for psychological assessment, or being identified by teachers with a learning disability” (Cascio, Race).
  • Studies show that older students are often selected for advanced curriculum groups “becoming relatively more motivated for school (Cascio, Race)
  • Studies show that older students are 4-11% more likely to be leaders (Dhuey and Lipscome)
  • Studies show that older students are 12.8% more likely to attend a University (Dhuey, Persistence)
  • Studies show that younger students score 4-12 % lower on tests
  • Studies show that younger students are underrepresented in the pre-university system by 11.6 percent  (Bedard and Dhuey)
  • Studies show that younger students score higher for psychiatric disorders (Thompson, Barnsley and Battle)
  • Studies show that young relative age links itself to Psychopathology in 5-15 year olds (Goodman, Gledhill and Ford)
  • Studies show that relative younger students will often leave or avoid and activity where they lack mature competitive edge and are more likely to drop out of school, sport or social activities (Thompson, Barnsley and Battle)

Authors Note.  Making the choice to retain a child is not a  decision to be taken lightly. The relative age factor is but one of many factors that must be considered. I believe the best route is to give the child the ultimate advantage from the beginning. By allowing our children to sufficiently mature before placing social, academic and intellectual pressures upon them we are respecting their right to mature in their own time.   


Works Cited

Bedard, Kelly, and Elizabeth Dhuey. "The Persistence of Early Childhood Maturity: International Evidence of Long-Run Age Effects." Department of Economics. Feb. 2006. University of California at Santa Barbara. 15 June 2009 ucsb.edu>.

  Cascio, Elizabeth U. "Race to the Top?: Relative age and student achievement | vox - Research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists." VOX. 6 Sept. 2008. Www.voxeu.org. 18 June 2009.

 Goodman, Robert, Julia Gledhill, and Tamsin Ford. "Child psychiatric disorder and relative age within school year: cross sectional survey of large population sample -- Goodman et al. 327 (7413): 472 -- BMJ." Bmj.com:. 18 June 2009 




Thompson, Angus, Roger Barnsley, and James Battle. "The relative age effect and the development of self-esteem." Educational Research 46.3 (Winter2004 2004): 313-320. Academic Search Elite. EBSCO. 18 June 2009 .




By Linda Shaw 


Photo by Dreamstime 

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