Pride and Parenting Teenagers in the Age of the Open Grade Book

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“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

In today’s world, grades post for middle and high schoolers within days of the test being taken, the assignment turned in, the participation completed. Parents can log on to the school’s website and track each and every grade, watching the fluctuations up or down with the attentiveness of a football fan watching the stats that decide the playoffs. A mistake made? Mom sees it. A bad day and a bad test? Busted. Real-time grade posting becomes a blessing and a curse as any helicopter parent worth his or her salt latches on to a new method of control.

One can see the open grade book as a blessing, as parents have an opportunity to help teenagers learn to manage school work and stay on top of grades. But it can also be a curse, as it gives opportunity for parents to nit-pick rather than allowing a teenager to improve a grade by the end of the quarter without the scrutiny of his or her parents.

In a recent summer school course my son was taking, I checked his course page to see if he had completed the course as he said he did. What I found was that with summer school, too, I could check his individual assignment grades—and so I did.

A blow-up argument, or really a lecture on my part, followed. It was supposed to be an easy course. A grade below a B was not acceptable, and a failing grade on multiple “easy” assignments made my blood boil. While I still believe that my son was not doing his best, I was certainly making a mountain out of a mole hill.

In that moment, my pride as well as my plans for my son’s future appeared to be under attack. My thinking went like this: “He is going to fail this course. He is not going to get into a top college as I think he is capable of doing. He doesn’t care about school. This is going to make me look bad.” My thinking then took on ugly words and anger as I tried to make a fourteen-year-old understand just what was at stake without saying that it was, in fact, my own pride.

My thinking was not provable. I cannot predict his future—either in this course or for post-high school plans. I cannot read his mind to know if he cares about his school work or not. I acted on evidence that was faulty at best.

In that moment, I surely exasperated and overloaded my son. The defense of my pride took precedence over listening to him calmly, shepherding him lovingly, and pursing him in relationship. I could have chosen to have a conversation about doing everything to the glory of the Lord—discipling my son in what it looks like for his faith to inform even school work. But instead my sin of pride took hold. Rather than doing what I really desire to do—to glorify God in my parenting and interactions with my son—I provoked him to anger and hurt.

What then? My child is frustrated and angry. I am ashamed and perhaps still have lingering frustration and anger of my own, toward my child, but more even more so toward myself. I knew better than to act that way, but I did it again.

Perhaps here is where the discipline and instruction of the Lord enters, which I pray my son remembers more than my frustration. As the Holy Spirit convicts, he leads me to repentance. First to the Lord and secondly to my child. Admitting a mistake to a child is not easy. Repenting of my pride and anger is humbling to say the least. Yet, repentance and restoration is an integral part of the Christian life as we are sanctified in order to look more and more like Christ.

Peter writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). Humility requires submission: the submission of anxiety, the submission of pride, the submission of self-righteousness. Coming under the mighty hand of God may sound scary, until we remember who our God is—the God who gave His own Son for my sins that I might have a restored relationship with him. We take comfort under his hand because as Peter reminds us, “he cares for you.” And he cares for your child, too.

As I seek forgiveness, my son sees that I am not perfect. He listens as I apologize. He hears me say that I am working on this and the Lord is working on my heart. He visibly sees and hears my dependence upon the Lord to restore and redeem the brokenness in my thinking, actions, and relationships. In effect, he sees what it looks like for a Christian to stumble back to the Lord, receive his grace, and move forward in freedom-knowing that Christ is at work, despite it all.

With restoration comes rest, as I rest in the Lord for Him to continue to work in me. Rest comes as I trust that the Lord has my son in the palm of His hand, that He has a plan for Him for his good, even if it does not look like my plan for him. Regardless of how much I do or say—good or bad—it cannot thwart God’s purpose for my child.

My son may still be mad at me. Damage may well have been done. Shame may still creep into my heart. But as a parent who believes the Gospel, I trust that the Lord will redeem my blundering as I parent. The Lord will trade beauty for ashes—for myself and for my children—time and time again.

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