Parents Conflicted on Whether to Retain Son

Question: Our son is 11 and will be 12 soon, so he's one of the youngest students in his class. He doesn't have any academic problems, but he is a "minimalist," according to his teachers. Basically, he's immature. He's also physically small.

Two of his teachers are urging us to retain him and let him excel and mature next fall. They have seen retention as an all-around positive experience for two similar children. The third teacher is opposed and says studies show that retention can be very damaging.

My gut says "retain him"; however, my husband doesn't want our son to be hurt. I say it is far more damaging to send a kid on who isn't ready. Do you know where I could get more information about retention? - Retain or Not

Answer: Your son is rather old to be retained, as most children are held back in the primary grades. You also need to know that he is very close to the point (seventh grade) where there is very little benefit to retaining any student.

Whether retention would benefit your son is almost impossible to say. Most studies have found that the negative effects of retention on the social, emotional and intellectual development of children far outweigh the positive ones.

As two of the teachers at your son's school have noted, retention can work. But what they haven't seen are all the similar students who were not held back and have gone on to the next grade and succeeded. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way to accurately identify which students will benefit from retention.

For retention to succeed, your child would need a totally different program. There is no point in repeating what didn't work the first time. Ask the two teachers who think your child should repeat the same grade what they would do differently to address his problems. Just spending more time in sixth grade is not the right answer. In addition, you, your husband and your son must strongly support retention in order for it to work.

Why don't you consider such alternatives to retention as tutoring, summer school and guidance counseling? They could be more effective. For more information on retention, contact your school psychologist, who should be able to tell you about the latest research.