There are 14-year-old kids in my daughter’s 7th grade class. She is still 12. We live in a southern state. Apparently this is normal.

I was a mid-September birthday and had to wait a year to start school because of 14 days. I was very tall and looked like I was babysitting most of my class with my enormous adult front teeth. One of my kids was born in December. He started kindergarten “on time” the August after he turned 5. The cut-off date to start kindergarten was September 30th.  He is a first kid and a boy. He really needed those extra months. My daughter was born in late-July. School cut-off date for starting had changed to 8/15. She was also starting “on-time” or so I thought. She was reading. She had an older sibling and had been at the school with me volunteering for several years. At barely 5, she was just ready. More than ready. My kindergarten picture of her is of her back as she skipped down the hallway. If I had “held her back”, I would have been literally holding her back.

I found out quickly through much parental judginess that she “should” have waited to start school. And that there were kids who were born in January and February that waited to start school. I get that kids have developmental delays and maybe need extra months at home. What I don’t get is the difference between going to five days of all-day preschool v. five days of all-day kindergarten. It’s not like kids don’t attend school, are raised by wolves and then somehow dropped in an all-day kindergarten jail separated from their parents. In K-5, teachers (and kids) encourage parents to help. Room Mom means mom of the room. It also means glue stick guru and queen of snacks and literature circle leader. I wasn’t isolated from my kids when they went to school. Until my kids kind of hinted that maybe I shouldn’t hang around the high school because someone might see me.

None of the moms would tell me the reasoning behind the rampant and pretty extreme redshirting because they were too busy whispering about my summer birthday kiddo. So, I asked my pediatrician why kids were being held back so much. I thought he might be unbiased. He really wasn’t because he held his own summer birthday kids back but he did let me in on a not-so-well-kept secret. Kids, especially in the football-crazed southern states, are held back so they will be bigger to: play sports. Not so they are ahead academically. Their parents are sizing up their 4 and 5 year old kids (mostly boys) and deciding to hold them back in the off chance they will be bigger. And, he added in a whisper because I was a mom, moms also want to keep their precious kids home another year for themselves. I looked at my son who was doing pull-ups on the stirrups, would require four nurses to hold him down for shots and who gave the doctor a lecture on the HPV virus and dared the doctor to tell me to keep him home another year–for ME. Full disclosure: I didn’t cry at either Boo Hoo going to kindy breakfast. My kids went at the specified time. I thought that was how it all worked.

In grades K-5, I didn’t notice the difference in these redshirted kids so much. And then, my daughter hit middle school. Suddenly she was 11 with 13-year-old boys in her class. And then 12 with 14-year-olds. Next year in 8th grade, there will be kids getting their learner’s permits at age 15. She will be barely 13. And not able to get her driver’s license until she is JUNIOR in high school. It makes a difference. It also scares me. These boys are, for the most part, bigger. They have big boy hormones. When they try to date my daughter and I know they will, she will be 16 and they will 17-going-on 18. This isn’t The Sound of Music and there is no romantic gazebo.

The further irony is that if my daughter had been born 2 weeks later, there would be no way they school district would have let her attend kindergarten at age 4. Even though she was far more ready than her brother was at nearly 6. There was no testing available. No recourse. On the other side of the coin, parents choosing to hold back spring and summer birthdays have no guidelines and no requirements. They just don’t send their kids. And my daughter ends up in a class with kids born 18 months earlier than her.

Parents of boys born in the spring and summer, I get it. I have a boy who was born first. I had doubts he would survive most of the elementary grades. He eventually got it. But if you are redshirting your barely potty-trained, no-reading 4-year-old in the hopes he will join the NFL somehow, the odds are it just ain’t happening. Also, be warned that my daughter is a Tae Kwon Do black belt. She can whip your 14-year-old boy’s butt. Especially if they are wearing their redshirt crop top.

A. Barnes has been published by many sites including Romper, The Billfold, The Cooper Review, The Higgs Weldon, The Giggle Guide, McSweeney’s, Apartment Therapy and Motherly. With most of her credits coming from sites starting with “The”, she may choose to be called “The Amy Barnes”. She lives with one husband, two dogs and two kid who both inspire and hinder her writing. Twitter:

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  1. I am a December baby who started K at 4 and graduated HS with many guys who had been held back and started car dating at 14 because my fellow classmates were driving. I’m 60 now and lived to tell about it. Your daughter will be fine.

  2. I’m from the South, have a boy and a girl, and this practice drives me insane! It might not hurt kids academically but it causes social chaos for everyone, espeically after puberty hits. I have gifted kids (both summer BD) and the older ones don’t like being blown out of the water by kid 2 years younger – and they retaliate.

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