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Redshirted kids bullies?

Original post made by a parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 20, 2010

I've been noticing the bullies at school (elementary) are pretty much the redshirted kids, mostly boys. Aside from the issues of dealing with bullies, no one seems to be assessing or dealing with the problems of having kids of such different ages in the same class -- or if they do, they hold it against the youngest ones.

I don't have a problem with kids who really, truly are not emotionally ready for school being held back -- and I do know a few of those and it's a good thing -- but when parents hold their kids back for a perceived sports advantage from being larger, or so that they can brag on how advanced they think their kid is (without having to ever compare the kid to those closer to the same age) or so the kid can learn to be assertive by bullying kids that are a year, year-and-a-half, sometimes closer to two years younger, that's a problem for the rest of the kids, especially the younger ones.

If parents want to hold their kids back so long without any objective reason, I'd like to see the schools group the older kids together. From what I've observed, problems arise based on larger age differentials, more so than the absolute ages of the kids.

I keep seeing parents of perfectly smart, well-adjusted but younger kids being pressured to hold them back because teachers compare the kid to others who are so much older, bigger, and more advanced developmentally. When I say "younger", I mean sometimes right in the middle of the age range ("summer boys") per state guidelines.

I'd like to say right here that most of these "younger kids" are perfectly ready for school, the academic environment, the social environment -- what they aren't handling well is being pushed around by kids a year to two years older, who tend to gravitate to one another and push the other kids around, physically and verbally.

Comments (10)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2010 at 10:18 am

The kindergarten cut off date has just been changed. This will not alleviate the "my kid is too young for kindergarten" just shift the birthday of the younger kids. There will always be kids who are 12 months apart in kindergarten and often more because someone feels that their kid is not ready.

Keeping a kid back should be rare and it should be decided by kindergarten professionals, not parents. If a parent feels that their child is not ready then they need to get a professional to test for readiness.

People keeping their kids back for sport advantages is wrong. We all know that, but it happens. The parents will never admit it, but it happens. Sports should be on ages not on grade levels. Read the book "Outliers" to see about the advantage of being born in the first few months of the year for professional hockey players. It also happens in other sports at every type of level.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 20, 2010 at 10:50 am

chee, we really ARE from different neighborhoods.
We are also not from the parents sports world.
Yet I would state in my experience there have often been in past too many "too young" kids that parents have persuaded the district to admit. In fact, several parents told me they are here in this district for precisely this reason. Another key district refused to admit their kid, so they moved to Palo Alto. It seems to be a point of pride at PALY that their kids graduate on the early side, age-wise (though they usually also have a lot of tutoring on the side).

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Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 20, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Once the kids are past Kindergarten they are out on the playground all together. All first through fifth graders play together at recess and at lunch. At Walter Hays this means approximately 450 kids running around together. The age range in one class no longer applies. If a kid has bullying tendencies they'll come out on the playground with whoever is allowed to be bullied.

I held my daughter back in part to give her the confidence she needed to stand up to bullies, but she will never be a bully. I found out very quickly that just holding them back a year does not change them from a follower into a leader. It does not change their personality. It gives them one more year of emotional and physical development. Something they should have had going into Kindergarten but the state did not think was appropriate at the time. I'm glad the state has since reconsidered thanks to the hard work of our Palo Alto teachers and Senator Simitian.

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Posted by a parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 20, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Times have changed. You are correct, it USED TO BE the fashion to send kids to school early. Now it is the fad to send them late out of a perceived advantage. If there is an advantage for kids to be a lot older, it's not really fair to the rest of the kids in that grade, is it? Regardless, all the bullies at school seem to be these redshirted boys.

I have not seen Walter Hayes and maybe your experience is true, that the kids all run around in a big 450kid pack, but I have never seen that in my life.

I am definitely with Resident. I think there are kids who need to stay back, and your daughter may be one of them, but they are much rarer than is happening in our district.

Maybe your daughter would never be a bully no matter her age or physical advantage, but what I'm seeing in school is that the ones who bully are all the redshirted boys ganging up on younger kids. (I'm not saying all the redshirted boys bully, I'm saying all the bullies I see are redshirted boys, I can't even think of one exception, except maybe on or two redshirted girls.)

I think there is far too little examination of this phenomenon and how it impacts the rest of the kids who are playing "by the rules". I think if the district is going to allow this -- instead of limiting it to those who really developmentally need it -- they have a responsibility to mitigate the negative impact on the other kids. They should group the older kids in the same class, maybe even call it the older class. As I said, the absolute age doesn't seem to be the issue so much as the age differential. When the kids are all pretty close to the same age, whether it's on the younger side or the older side, there seem to be fewer problems.

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Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 20, 2010 at 4:53 pm

In my experience, the kids who bully have learned that behavior from someone else. Either an older sibling or a parent. Many of the kids who I have been told about that have been bullying are actually younger siblings with spring birthdays.

One of the biggest problems I see around the issue is the lack of supervision on the playground. The schools are way too big for one or two yard duty to be supervising 400+ kids. You can't stop bullying if you can't see it happening.

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Posted by a parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2010 at 6:42 pm

With all due respect, what happens on the playground is just one manifestation of relationships that develop in school.

I'll put this as nicely as I can, Erin, but I've seen your posts on other school issues, and you have a tendency to write as if everything you observe and think is exactly how the world is and have no room for any facts or experiences or even studies beyond your experience or that don't agree. You've stated your experience, fine. It doesn't jive with mine. Your points don't in any way address the issues I'm bringing up, either, and you have already stated your bias because you held your daughter back.

You're talking about kids you've been "told about", well I'm writing about bullying I have seen firsthand, over several years, and it's to a one redshirted boys, not all of them younger siblings, not all of them with any siblings. There's also a lot of aggressive and dominating behavior by redshirted boys that doesn't meet the standard of bullying but is hurtful to other kids nevertheless. It's too easy to form an older boy clique, because they are older and have more in common -- and it becomes easy to pick on the younger kids.

You held your daughter back because you clearly think there are issues relating to age and the social environment. Why wouldn't you want what you feel instinctively and reacted on for your own child to be examined and better understood?

I'll state again, there is far too little examination of this redshirting phenomenon and how it impacts the rest of the kids who are playing "by the rules". I think if the district is going to allow this -- instead of limiting it to those who really developmentally need to start later -- they have a responsibility to understand and mitigate negative impacts on the other kids.

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Posted by a parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2010 at 1:19 am

If so many people think there is something so significant about the age of their own child relative to others that they will hold their child back til they are a year or two older than the other kids, you don't think that's worth examining for the effect on the other kids?

I've been seeing bullying now for several years at the elementary level, and it's pretty much the redshirted kids doing the bullying. (Note again -- not all redshirted kids are bullies, but the bullies tend to be the redshirted kids.) This made me wonder what work had been done to look at the effect of this redshirting on other kids, and lo-and-behold, our district hasn't looked into this at all.

I think the issue should be studied, so that Erin's generalizing, or mine if that's what you think, aren't the last word on this issue. The kids deserve better than that. (Certainly better than flip posts, too.)

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Posted by a parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2010 at 1:42 am

There is a lot of stuff online about redshirting and the effect on the redshirted child, but I can't find anything at all about the effect on the classroom or the other kids of having a lot of redshirted kids and a large age disparity. I have seen a number of anecdotes -- different states, different schools -- moms noting redshirted boys being bullies...

The studies do note that redshirted boys do tend to have more "behavioral" problems when they get older. What kind of behavioral problems, and is it only just noticed when they get older?

This has become such a major phenomenon, where are the studies on the effects of this on the other kids?

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 21, 2010 at 8:09 am

I have not found bullies to be only "redshirt" boys.

In my experience, elementary bullies were some older boys (maybe redshirt) and the really little "napoleon" boys. The female bullies were the really good athletes and queen bees, no particular age, but usually physically large and quick witted (girls are not usually physical when bullying).

Middle school bullies - mostly boys who are feel (and are?) academically or financially inferior. Girls - volleyball players being the coolest girls and therefore the meanest. The most well developed with the coolest clothes get to be queen bees.

Many of the kids bully for the attention - negative attention is better than no attention. What surprised me was the parents that thought it was perfectly ok for their child to be a bully.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 26, 2010 at 6:55 am

This doesn't have to do with bullying, but another reason some parents have for redshirting is that in many states, the cutoff date for kindergarten is much earlier. If parents foresee that they may move to another state (or that their child may eventually attend college in another state), they may prefer that their kid be the same age as the kids he's going to be with in the future. A kid who's the oldest (or one of the oldest) in a California kindergarten class will be right in the middle in many other states.

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