My son's in the 10th grade. In our country 10th and 12th grades have final exams. He says he want to do "competitive programming" and take part in IOI or something. That's okay. But he also says he's gonna focus less on school. He always get above 95% and ranks in top 2. He says he's gonna only get 90-95% and I have to accept it. I don't what to say to him. I want what is best for him. I know he can manage both. But I want him to do good in both. I don't want him to lose his good grades .How to say that to him and how to make him understand school grades(as stupid as they may sound to him)are still important? How can I help him with his journey?

Thank you for all your answers. I talked to him and we have decided to help him rather than hinder.

I want to help him structure his day and also provide essential help. ANy insights?

  • Hi, welcome to Parenting. Right now this is likely to receive opinion answers (like, “Let him do it, programming is good”) which aren’t the kind of questions/answers we look for here. See if you can focus your question on what you want - are you looking for how to talk to him about this? Do you want to enable him to make a good choice and just want to help him get there? Are you looking for advice as to how to convince him not to do this? Or something else? Just be specific, and we can’t tell you what the right answer is here - that’s your call.
    – Joe
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 3:06
  • Thank you for pointing it out to me.
    – Vin
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 3:28
  • I feel like I had let him down for a long time. He had a lot of interests even sports(which he ignores completely now) but we were unable to afford it. I want to help him now.
    – Vin
    Commented Nov 28, 2020 at 14:15
  • I live in a country where "10th grade" doesn't mean anything... For the sake of clarity could you specify how old is your kid and/or which country you live?
    – Laurent S.
    Commented Nov 29, 2020 at 13:27
  • 1
    Are you from a culture where the difference between 95% and 90% is significant in terms of how it is perceived? From my experience in several western cultures 90% is still very much the high end of the spectrum (and, as an aside, I don't quite see how anyone can reliably predict a 5% drop). I'm not negating what you say, but I'm just trying to highlight that cultural considerations are relevant here as there are plenty of cultures where both grades are considered stellar.
    – Flater
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 14:35

3 Answers 3


One angle you could go for is to point out that his passion and talent for programming opens him a lot of doors for a future career in software development, and that this is a very good opportunity for him. But that his chances to make it in that field also require good grades, so all the work he puts into furthering his programming skills will be useless if he does not also get the grades to match.

Which might or might not be true. It would certainly be wrong at our company. We would rather hire someone out of school with average grades and hobby experience rather than someone with superb grades and no experience. But I have no idea where you are from and how the software industry in your culture values grades vs. hands-on experience. And I am not here to convince you that your parenting goals are misguided. That's something your son has to do on his own.

  • 1
    If he plans to go to college most would value the competitive programming more if he does a good job of focusing on it when putting in his application with the college. If he wants to go straight to a job without college...that's probably not a good idea unless he can really prove himself. The big names, like Google or MS, would value the comparative programming more, but they probably wouldn't higher him without the college degree also. The smaller names I guess it depends on who runs the company, but if he is successful in competitive programming many would prefer that as well.
    – dsollen
    Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 5:05

My son took part in the MIT BatttleCode competition for two years in Years 10 and 12, which were the years that avoided the big exams in the UK. It was a very positive experience.

  • Most learning problems at school or University are small and closed. This was bigger and open-ended. It was also structured to encourage teamwork, including remote collaboration.

  • The competitions were a very intense time, but over a limited period. The second year he discussed his plans with his school, and they agreed to relax deadlines on coursework in order to let him compete. They were also proud to have him competing in such a prestigious contest.

  • He learned a huge amount. Some of it was plain straightforward computer science (e.g. maze solving algorithms), but much was the kind of practical knowledge that you don't necessarily get at university, like how to use version control systems in a collaborative project, the importance of readable code, and the importance of making your code testable.

  • Seconding Philipp's answer, it looks good on his CV. Companies hiring programmers, especially new graduates, have the problem that not everybody with a Computer Science degree is actually a competent programmer; there are many anecdotes of applicants for programming jobs who turn out to be incapable of actually writing even a small program. The problem is that university computer departments need to teach so much stuff that its possible to get a degree by just memorising it. The result is a bit like a carpenter who can discourse learnedly on types of wood, different joints etc but can't actually saw a straight line or hit a nail with a hammer. Hence employers look for evidence of programming ability from outside formal courses. Also universities are likely to take this kind of thing into account in their admissions too.

  • It bought him into contact with a number of programmers from around the world, who in turn became useful contacts.

  • It confirmed that he had a real bent towards programming, which he now does professionally.

So overall I would encourage your son to do this, although with limits. He should pick a small number of good competitions rather than try to do too much (the MIT one is really good and has cash prizes; I would recommend going for it). However he should also do other things as well. Writing or contributing to open-source software is another way to gain experience, contacts and something to put on a CV; I've seen quite a few job adverts which ask for GitHub repositories. Answering questions on Stack Overflow and joining in the relevant Reddit groups also looks good.

He should also keep a sense of perspective about these competitions. Failing doesn't mean you are a bad programmer, just that this wasn't the right one for you at this time. Don't be afraid of re-entering next year.

Good luck to him.

  • 1
    you said what I wanted to say, but much better then I would have. I would say a slight drop in his classwork grades, if they still stay A's, or even occasional B's, would be worth it for the experience. Of course encourage him to excel at both as possible.
    – dsollen
    Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 5:07

Part 1: let's talk about the decision process for this type of thing

First you need to figure out what is your goal as a parent and what is your role in this? Who is making this decision and why?

Personally we always defined our role as parents as "we want to help our children to become self-reliant and responsible adults" . That means that decision making needs to gradually shift from the parent to the child and giving your children also chances to make mistakes to learn and recover from. Over time your role shifts to an advisor: preventing catastrophic outcomes and helping and supporting when things go sideways.

You have a wonderful opportunity here to make this a collaborative project. Both of you can assemble your pros and cons. If you have specific concerns, make sure your son knows about them, so he can work on it. Give him an honest chance to address them. Example: You probably believe that "Good grades are important". How do you actually know that? What type of research and analysis can you and your son do to figure out where grades are important and where they are not. How much of a grade drop is "acceptable" etc.

So I would recommend that you both go off, do research on the pros and cons for each option. Make sure your clearly express any specific concerns that you have in a way that he can address. Stay open minded, listen to his arguments and assess them on their merit, not on how you feel. Make sure you fully understand your sons concerns and excitements and that he understand yours.

Then let him make the decision.

Part 2: Back to the actual decision

That feels like a wonderful opportunity for your son. Smart kids can easily be bored in school and funneling the extra brain capacity into something productive and quite valuable is a really good thing (as compared to becoming bored, disruptive, demotivated, or mischievous otherwise)

I've worked both in industry and academia and I have interviewed 100s of job candidates: grades matter very little. They are a very poor predictor of actual performance and ability. They also have a fast expiration date: once they are 2 or 3 years old no one gives a hoot anymore. From an employability perspective "competitive programming" is clearly the winner.

High school grades may be important in the college admission process but so are extracurricular activities. That depends a lot on local culture and admission procedures. In most cases a strong extracurricular activity will outweigh even a pretty significant grade drop, but that is something you and your son should research.

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