The right measure for judging your pre-teen’s academic performance; More or less!

As your child gets to his/her first ‘double digit’ milestone birthday – the big 10, something turns in the attitude of parenting in you. Have you noticed that? All that was cute and cuddly, now looks like a box tied up neatly with a bow of expectations. Of your own. Could be reminiscent of what your family expected from you.  Or possibly some of what you expected of yourself. Add to this, what you aspire for your child. So much potential!  Alongside these expectations from your child, you also create expectations from yourselves for a new wave of parenting that sweeps over you. Rightly so, for now, the existential nurturing needs that you fulfilled for your child is over taken by the child himself/herself. The child can pretty much take care of all his/her needs. From feeding, bathing to asking and negotiating. Both your and your child’s roles and responsibilities now need to go through an overhaul! Your parenting style needs to move from that of primarily nurturing and stimulating, to providing for wider exposure, higher challenges and connecting-communicating for a deeper relationship.

It is typically around the age of 10, when your child is most likely to be in grade 5, a new sense of independence dawns. Sometimes you will feel that your child is pushing you away. He/she tests the limits that have been set by you over the past years of growing up. What has happened is that your child is changing both physically and emotionally. This has led to significant development in the cognitive as well as social aspects of the child’s personality. The child is now demanding autonomy. Time for you to respect that. However, parental support, supervision, monitoring, tracking performance and growth in various areas assume even greater importance during these pre-adolescent years.

While your child is not a teen yet, he/she is out of his/her childhood. Remember:

  • Your child’s pushing you away is nothing personal.
  • Keeping small secrets from you is normal.
  • Your child will often not respond to your inquiries into his/her routines and about friends.
  • Your child expects you to listen but not always comment or advice.
  • The child is looking for non-judgmental responses from you.
  • Expect that the norms of discipline, school, home-work, family time – all will be re-negotiated.
  • To launch themselves to the outside world, they need you as the anchor.
  • They want to fit with their friends but they want you to keep them safe

What is it that most children exhibit during these wonderful  years of growing out of childhood and becoming an adolescent teen?  Over the years of being an educator, I have conducted several sessions on puberty and changes with this age group. Have taught and discussed with them content ranging from lake eutrophication and impact on ecosystem to classification in animal and plant kingdom. From Shakespeare – the bard and Steve Jobs the entrepreneur to Claude Monet – the impressionist.  Have travelled with them for days on multiple school trips to a range of destinations, to study history, geography, sciences – all the while understanding each other. I must say, I have enjoyed and learned much about the behaviour of pre-adolescents during these long and intense interactions. What I am sharing below are general characteristics as observed and understood by me. Read this keeping in consideration the understanding that you have of your own child. His/her temperament, factors of home and family, friends in school and neighbourhood, tasks undertaken, maturity level and if there’s any ongoing factor of illness, changes, happenings like birth, death, adoption, marriage etc. –  that could potentially put your child either in a state of flux or stability.

These three years are seen as the calm before storm and is actually the best time for both teachers and parents to establish a long lasting connection with the soon to be the belligerent full blown teenager.

The 10 to 12-year old’s behaviour is typically:

  • A spectrum. From relaxed and easy-going, to swinging between extremes and settling down, before it all erupts in the teens.
  • A talkative, friendly – may sometimes be more self-assertive and border on rude.
  • Likes school, is alright with reasonable amount of homework and is good at memorising.
  • Is curious, impulsive, interrupts, wiggles and fidgets.
  • Enjoys physical activities like swimming, running, climbing, jumping, riding but also tires easily.
  • Rebels against you, argues, talk back and name calling is common.
  • Is hungry all the time, for food and for experiences.
  • Resists tasks that are imposed. Does not care for consequences but has sense of right and wrong so can be reasoned with.
  • Shows care for pets and siblings, great age to introduce to community service activities and opportunities to build empathy.
  • Enjoys participating in group activities, forming special clubs, presenting skills to peers and competing.

You may want to order yourself a copy of Louise Bates Ames, Frances L. llg and Sidney M Baker’s ‘Your Ten-to Fourteen-Year-Old’. They have presented their  observation, consultation and discussion with parents. Loise Bates Ames is also the founder of Gesell Institute of Child Development. You may also want to read Gottman’s book ‘Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child’.

With all the understanding – of your child’s circumstances and development — should you venture into measuring your pre-teen child’s academic performance.

What should be your method of measuring?

  • Standardised tests?
  • Personal graphs?
  • Individual education plans?
  • Profiles of achievements?
  • Measuring their co-curricular achievements with academic achievement?
  • Personality development with or without academic progress?

Then you also have to answer the following questions :

  • How do you wish to track these achievements?
  • What should be your response on high/low performance?
  • Should you discuss the performance first with the teacher and then with your child or should you do it along with the teacher, or only with your child one on one?
  • Should both parents take equal interest and praise/reprimand? Or one of you should take back-seat? Or while one of you measure one kind of performance, the other parent should pursue another?
  • How much weightage should you give to the factor of emotional wellbeing of the child vis-à-vis scores in these pre-teen years.

Academic performance is understood to be a measurable outcome of education, vis-à-vis the goals set by the student, teacher or institution and the parent. Most common measure of this achievement is by formative (continuous) assessment or summative (term end test/examinations) assessments. And it’s in this context that you need to argue and ask questions, some of which are listed above. There are no clear answers. Even within standardised tests administered to a class group in the same institution, it is argued whether procedural knowledge (skills and concepts) or declarative knowledge (information on content and facts) should be given more significance. IQ tests are scored by students with higher mental ability and is linked with effort and motivation for achievement in very academic environments. Whereas if your child is attending a school which is more flexible on curricular achievements and has plenty of co-curricular activities or even if your home learning environment is semi-structured, your child’s academic achievement would differ. You must factor in the discourse you have with your child on academic achievement, skill development and expectations of behaviour and attitude.

Another key factor that should be included as you measure your child’s academic performance would be your own academic socialisation. Your socio-economic status and that of your friends and family. Research has shown that the quality of relationship that you have with your child will influence the self-efficacy of your child and thus the academic achievement.  Do measure your own quality time spent with your child, while judging your child’s academic performance.

Some of the practical ways to judge your child’s academic performance are:

  • To keep an eye on the actual grades achieved in various subjects, in the projects, term reports, graded tasks.
  • To chart it with dates and keep a chronological record to discuss if the child is consistently maintaining, improving or regressing in grades.
  • To keep the big picture in mind that whether the child is able to understand and apply the material which he/she is working upon and is developing a critical thinking and application based information.
  • Take an overview of all the subjects being tackled at the grade level and see if some subjects/topics within the subjects are being understood at the level of mastery and whether some concepts are remaining fuzzy. This may have a compounding impact later especially in Language, Mathematics and Sciences.
  • Besides Grades and test scores, be cognisant of participation in extracurricular activities as well. The ability to master a variety of skills in sports, arts, literary areas might support your child to have a well-rounded personality. This is great for the development of the child as well as for senior school/college applications.
  • Initiatives, volunteering, leadership positions for organising events and activities in school community and/or in the neighbourhood would stand in good stead for your child and should compensate adequately for any lack of grades/scores.

According to studies conducted by Broh, 2002; Mahoney, Larson, Ecce, and Lord, 2005, participation in extracurricular activities have a positive influence on academic performance. Theatre rehearsal, soccer practice, piano lessons – all contribute towards academic achievement. So, when measuring your child’s academic performance, check out how the child is performing/engaging in the co-curricular activities and check if the graph is positive and indicating growth over time. Positive social relationships and behaviour, developing self-esteem, sense of citizenship – all of these are key markers to keep in mind, while measuring your child’s performance.

One of the areas I have spent most time as a K-12 educator are in discussions with parents to understand the changes that their child goes through at various ages. The ages of 10 to 12, as I have mentioned earlier in this article, are the early adolescent ones. They are not children; they are not young adults. The milestones are not as clearly defined as they are in the preschoolers or early primary years. The boys and girls go through many physical changes and not all of it begins or proceeds at the same pace. Along with the physical changes come the cognitive changes. These are less visible but are palpable to an involved parent. During this time, most of the children learn to think, reason and learn. They are able to conceive of ideas and projects in abstraction. They do not need to see or touch them to plan a project with the materials. They also want to experiment with reasoning and consequences. They can understand complicated emotions like for e.g. the fact that you can hide your sadness with a smile on your face. Your child can start anticipating how you will react to something he/she will say or do and is prepared with an explanation or an excuse or even fabricate a cover up story. As a parent, it is expected of you to be more open, show your trust, be less judgmental in your words as well as show it in your actions. It is important that your child should think it alright to tell the truth to you no matter what has happened.

During these years, it is best that you come to terms with the fact that your child is starting to think with more cognitive maturity, which is almost adult-like, even without having gone through the experiences of adulthood. The mental changes that your child is undergoing, is part of the process of ‘identity formation’. During these years, you will feel that your child is going through phases. It is important for them to go through this and struggle through their understanding of self – as a daughter/son, as a friend, as a class mate, as a student, as a team mate, as a sibling etc. These help them to handle their negative emotions like fear, sadness and anxiety in future. You might observe some contradictory habits like taking a long shower while participating in a marathon for a saving water campaign. He/she may spend hours texting with their friends only to criticize a peer for gossip.

You may want to check out some of the following links for further understanding of early adolescence.

While you are making an effort to understand your child, make yourself better understood by your child as well. How well does your child know you? Find out with this quiz. Make up some more questions and substitute mummy/daddy as applicable. This might encourage your child to make one on themselves as a result of which you will have known some more about your own child!

Here are 20 questions on you for your child (be prepared for the most unexpectedly honest answers that your child might come up with):

  1. What makes mummy/daddy happy?
  2. What makes mummy/daddy sad?
  3. What makes mummy/daddy laugh?
  4. What does mummy call daddy when she is upset?
  5. How does daddy call mummy when he is looking for something?
  6. How old is mummy/daddy?
  7. How tall is mummy/daddy?
  8. How did mummy/daddy look when they were children?
  9. What does mummy/daddy do best?
  10. What is the most used phrase by mummy/daddy?
  11. What is the job of mummy/daddy?
  12. What does mummy/daddy do when you are not home?
  13. What does mummy/daddy like best about you?
  14. What is the favourite place for mummy/daddy that you to go?
  15. How do you know that mummy/daddy love you?
  16. If you were to name your mummy/daddy (like they did for you), what would it be?
  17. If your mummy/daddy were characters in a film/cartoon/computer game, what would they be?
  18. What is the favourite activity for your mummy/daddy?
  19. What does your mummy/daddy always say to you?
  20. How does mummy/daddy make you laugh?

It would take you time to understand your pre-adolescent child and then some more to understand your adolescent child in years to come. As an educator and a parent, my advice would be to have patience, spend time to sit and chat without agenda, listen more – advise less, share more – ask less, understand more – judge less. As for academic performance – discuss more – measure less.

Nivedita Mukerjee is a journalist and an educator. She enjoys travelling and writes about travel and education with equal passion.  She can be reached at

A version of this post has also been published here:





4 thoughts on “The right measure for judging your pre-teen’s academic performance; More or less!

  1. Thanks for your writing Niveditha. I’m sure parents off tens and tweens will find this helpful. I have observed a negative correlation between age and content available for the course of child development. I would like to add to your list of book suggestions Steve Biddups ‘Raising Boys’ for any parent, teacher, social worker, doctor.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very enriching write up Nivedita!! Will definitely benefit parents with children on that threshold!! Forwarded to my contacts and sharing it on fb too.

    Liked by 1 person

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