Son, this is what your life will look like...
No choices, no tests, unconditional love, financial support and affection from your parents. Just eat, sleep and poop, no worries.
Simple Choices - Which color crayon to use, what toys to play with. No approval needed to move to the next stage other than learning some manners and how to stay out of trouble. Still no tests (none that affect your future anyway) and your parents are still providing unconditional love, financial support and affection.
Choices become slightly more complex when confronted with the decision of whether to take after school soccer or after school basketball. Classes have begun to challenge you as you begin learning the basics of math, vocabulary, study skills and social interactions with classmates. You can fail here but for the most part elementary school is not competitive. As long as you do the minimum required, you will still be moving up as equals with your classmates. However, if you do not do your homework and pay attention in class, you may not be able to keep up with your classmates and you may have to repeat a year and all your friends will go on without you. Mom and Dad still love you no matter what and you have yet to pay for anything you consume with your own money let alone worry about paying.
Suddenly, the grades you were getting on tests in class are now showing up on your report card. An F is bad and an A is good. If you plan to go to a different high school then your grades will be important in order to make the transition. The admissions office at the high school (the people who get to say whether you can come to the school or not) will be looking at your grades and comparing them with the grades of everyone else who wants to go there. Only the best students will be approved. If you want to go to the same high school as your friends then make sure to get good grades so that you will be accepted. You still have yet to work a day in your life and yes, you have unconditional love, financial support and affection at home although Mom and Dad can sometimes get a little freaked out about obedience issues and homework.
Grades have now become really important. When you finish high school and apply to college the admissions people at the college will throw away all the applications from kids who do not have high enough grades in high school. Then, they will throw away all the applications of kids who did not do well enough on their SATs. Of the kids who are still in the running, the admissions people will look for some early indications of interest in the subject they are applying to study. If you want to go to college and study marketing, it helps that you did something related to marketing during high school, preferably some sort of summer job. The colleges will also choose the kids who have achieved something. Eagle scout from the boy scouts is a good one, captain of the soccer team is also nice, volunteering every summer to build homes in Indonesia stands out as well. Top score in Mario Kart will not help. Hopefully, you will have earned some of your own spending money during these 4 years but you don't need to worry about feeding, clothing or sheltering yourself. Mom and Dad may be more stressed about your school and paying for college but rest assured, they love you as much as they ever did.
You got into the college of your choice and are now studying something relevant to your future job. Mom and Dad are still paying for everything OR you took out a loan to help with the costs of school. You are making your own schedule and managing your days of school and social activities. But, looming ahead is a job. When you graduate from college you will need to work and start supporting yourself. You will need to find a job that pays enough money so that you can rent an apartment, buy groceries, clothe yourself, pay off the college loan and maybe have enough left over to go out with your friends after work. Employers are going to look at your grades and take the students with the highest so you need to keep shooting for high marks. Companies also want focused workers so figure out what job you want now (freshman year) and study for it. Get an internship EVERY summer that is relevant to the job and industry you are interested in and start making connections through networking both online and in real life. Love and affection are still unconditional but financial support may be contingent on getting good grades.
Congratulations, you have a job! Mom and Dad no longer pay for anything but love you and bestow their affection whenever you find time to visit them. You have a personal life and are in control of your destiny. Except of course that your boss can fire you if you don't work hard and show results. Grades don't matter anymore, you are back to pass/fail. Decisions are all yours to make and they are not simple black and white issues. Set goals for yourself and strive to achieve them. Welcome to the real world.
As my son transitions from 5th grade to 6th grade one of the big changes will be the use of letter grades from now on and through the rest of his schooling life. Effort, is no longer a meaningful form of evaluation, results are all that matter now. The flowchart above grew out of my desire to share with him the benefits that come with good grades and why he should care about getting an A rather than a B. Of course there are many variations to this chart depending on your location and situation so customize it to make it applicable to your own son or daughter.