The risks of 'redshirting'


On Sunday night 60 Minutes did a feature on "redshirting," the practice of holding children back from starting kindergarten with the intention of giving them an advantage by gaining an extra year (see video below). This is distinctly different from holding a child back due to legitimate behavioral, social, or learning development concerns. The parents interviewed cited the additional social development a child gained that would carry forward even to middle school and high school. They mentioned the potential behavioral development and even the physical advantages their children would have in sports. There are statistics to support the idea that there are real advantages to this practice. In his bestseller, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell even discusses how the month a child is born can create an advantage in certain arenas.

Something about this practice strikes me as discordant with the heart of the gospel. I do not mean to cast aspersions on those parents who do it, but rather to bring to the surface some questionable and possibly unnoticed undercurrents of redshirting.

There is an inherent selfishness to such practices. While a parent may say, "I am simply trying to give my child all the advantages she deserves," there is a subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) attempt to get a leg up on other children. Our society is so individualistic in its mentality that we think nothing of others when we seek to bless our children. In the effort to put our children first we are, necessarily, seeking to put other children behind. I do not believe most parents are actively seeking to create setbacks for other people's children, but it is a requisite effect of putting our own children first.

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There are societal down sides to redshirting. Less privileged families don't have the freedom to do it. It is inequitable. It can create a gap between the redshirted and the unredshirted. But these ills are just symptoms of a deeper issue, a heart issue.

What does it teach our children when we put them above everyone else around them? What does it say about our hearts that, while we may not be trying to disadvantage others with our choices we care nothing at all that our choices do disadvantage them? Is this, while a small decision, also a small evidence of being willing to gain the whole world for our children while forfeiting our souls-and theirs?

As the parent of a kindergartener I realize, very clearly, that redshirting is not itself a damnable offense. But it points to a mentality, a culture that has substituted self-glory for the glorification of Christ. And as Christians we cannot participate in that. We must be representatives of a better ideal, one that emphasizes humility, love, and the interests of others before our own.

Barnabas Piper
Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.


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