The Pros and Cons of Redshirting Your Kid

It may seem a no-brainer to let your child with a summer birthday wait an extra year to enter kindergarten. That extra year of growth and development will help him or her to perform better from the start, right? In some cases, yes, but there are experts who warn against the growing trend of “redshirting.” They argue that the long-term benefits are minimal, if they exist at all, and that there are some drawbacks that parents might not expect down the road.

Why Parents Redshirt:

  1. Self Confidence: For some parents, the decision to redshirt may be tied to helping their child develop self-confidence. A child who doesn’t possess the language or motor skills to perform well in kindergarten may be frustrated by the school experience, and learn early on to dislike school.
  2. Physical Size / Athletics Some experts speculate that spikes in redshirting enthusiasm may be tied to a strong interest in youth sports. However, before you plan your child’s life around his baseball career, you may want to take a look at the real odds of a career in professional sports.
  3. Head of the Class: Consider how much of your motivation lies in your desire to have your child be a “star.” Some psychologists think that the real driving force behind the redshirting trend is a parental need to have a child who is a stand-out, rather than merely performing adequately for his or her age.

Pros of Redshirting:

  1. For Sports: The relative-age effect has been found in schools around the world and also in sports. In one study published in the June 2005 Journal of Sport Sciences, researchers found that a disproportionate number of World Cup soccer players are born in January, February and March, meaning they were old relative to peers on youth soccer teams. (New York Times)
  2. For Academic Reasons: After crunching the math and science test scores for nearly a quarter-million students across 19 countries, Bedard (Kelly Bedard, a labor economist at the University of California, Santa Barbara) found that relatively younger students perform 4 to 12 percentiles less well in third and fourth grade and 2 to 9 percentiles worse in seventh and eighth; and, as she notes, ”by eighth grade it’s fairly safe to say we’re looking at long-term effects.”  (New York Times)

Cons of Redshirting:

  1. Children are Less Motivated: Neuroscientists Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt argued in a September 2011 New York Times article that the trend toward redshirting actually hurts, rather than helps, children who lag behind in social and academic skills. Their research showed that redshirted kids are less motivated and perform less well in high school. As adults, they show no advantages in educational attainment or earnings—in fact, they have one year less income due to the late start.
  2. Children Get Less Stimulation: Parents who want to give their young children an academic advantage have a powerful tool: school itself. In a large-scale study, first graders who were young for their year made considerably more progress in reading and math than kindergartners who were old for their year. In another large study, the youngest fifth-graders scored a little lower than their classmates, but five points higher in verbal I.Q., on average. In other words, school makes children smarter. (New York Times)  
  3. Children Miss Out on Positive Peer Influence: Some children, especially boys, are slow to mature emotionally, a process that may be aided by the presence of older children. (New York Times)

Who’s Redshirting?

Redshirting tends to be somewhat regional in the US. While the National Center for Education Statistics finds that overall around 10% of kindergarten students are now redshirted.  However, that figure can be significantly higher in some communities or regions.

Ultimately, the decision to hold your child back is personal and very specific to your child’s needs and available options. Weighing the pros and cons with the help of real scientific evidence—rather than the purely anecdotal evidence we hear from other parents—can help you make the right call.


© 2011 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.