First Born Academics

This morning I read an article entitled Why First-Born Kids Do Better in School. The author, V. Joseph Hotz puts forth the premise that first born children do better in school because parents punish their older children for poor school performance more than their younger children.  According to the author's research, parents are stricter and expect better grades from their firstborn children as a way to send a message to their younger siblings.  Parents are hoping that the younger children will take note and do well because of the parental discipline applied to the oldest.  This interested me because I was just thinking about how differently we approach schoolwork, and parenting in general, with our younger vs. older children. With five kids I've definitely noticed my parenting has relaxed over the years, but I don't think that punishment for poor school performance, or the lack thereof, has made as much of a difference as other factors.  As we've added to our family, my parenting experience and flexibility has increased, while my time and focused attention with each child has decreased.  

With my first child, I was determined to do everything "right" and parenting books made me believe that if I input A, I'd always get B.  Take the area of food. With my oldest, I followed the baby book advice and introduced the vegetables first, then the fruits, avoided processed sugar foods until a year old, and so on.  Supposedly this method was going to make my child a voracious eater of vegetables and they'd never crave a twinkie. My second child was having an after dinner bowl of ice cream every night by the time he was six months old.  With the third, fourth, and fifth children, I introduced whatever was there without a thought.  All of them eat vegetables and none of them are addicted to sugar.

Bringing this back to school performance...I think first time parents are understandably super involved and conscientious with everything related to the classroom and homework because they want to do it "right". There's a sort of pressure to prove you can do it.  If your first child is successful in school, you think of yourself as a successful parent.  All kids thereafter get a pass. Plus by the time you get to the younger siblings, the words school project strike such dread in your heart that you'll offer to do ANYTHING for your spouse if only they'll, please, please, be in charge of it!  A night with no homework becomes a treasured gift.  You care about how they do and help however you can, but you don't obsess (as much) anymore. You learn to accept and appreciate the reality, that good enough is often truly good enough. 

All of my kids have gotten similar treatment for bad grades and I don't think we'll ever get to the point where working below their academic potential is acceptable. But having a high school senior has made me realize that I ultimately have very little control over how well my child does in school.  Punishment for poor school performance can only do so much.  A lot of it really depends on the child's own internal motivation and desire to apply themselves.  Sandwiched between two older and two younger siblings, my middle child has the least amount of parental pressure applied to him, but he is very internally motivated.  He wants to do well for reasons that have nothing to do with fearing parental discipline. 

Of course, it's just a stereotype that first born children do better than younger siblings in school.  There are many exceptions to the rule and we can see these exceptions within our own circle of family and friends.  But when it is true, what do you think?  Is it because of parental discipline falling by the wayside or are you just a different parent as your family grows?  Which ones have the greater advantage in life, the older or younger children?  I'm an oldest, my husband is a youngest, and I think it's a toss up that evens itself out in the end. 

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