A comparison-free space

Most parents receive the message early in our parenting careers that it’s generally not a good idea to compare siblings. “Why can’t you be more responsible like your sister?” might be exactly what we’re thinking and feeling in the moment, but the sentiment is just going to make the unfavorably compared sibling feel bad about themselves.

The high school experience is rooted in comparisons. Kids are constantly compared to every other student in class, every other student who took the standardized test, every other student who’s applying to the dream schools, etc. And for many families, those comparisons seep into the home.

The calculus exam, the student body election, the tryouts for the team or the audition for the play or the big debate tournament–if parents focus all of their conversations with their kids on these outcomes, the feeling of being compared to their peers is inescapable for most kids, even when that’s not our intention. The message is that whoever scored the highest, ran the fastest, or sang the best is more deserving of praise and pride than the kids who worked just as hard and risked just as much.

Some tough-loving parents may point out that this is how the world works and that they’re just preparing their kids for it, but that’s just not true. You have no idea where your family doctor finished in her med school graduating class, and you probably don’t care (you probably care even less about what she scored on her SATs).

Comparisons may be part of the college admissions process, but they don’t need a place in your home. Appreciate your student for who they are, not how they stack up. Praise them for their efforts, not the comparison-driven outcomes.

And if you worry that you’re shielding them from the harsh realities of the world, remember that they’re immersed in comparisons all day, every day, arguably more so than any of us parents are in our jobs or our social circles. Their current high school universe will offer plenty of comparisons for them to feel measured against. Let’s make home their one comparison-free space.