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Is Early SAT Tutoring Child Abuse?

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Should you force your teen to give up their freewheeling summer for the grind that isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be?

Sarah Bowman: As a parent of a high school sophomore, there's not a lot of relaxing now that summer has arrived. Anxiety about college ramps up exponentially as junior year approaches, and there isn't a parent in the world that isn't freaking out about this important marker in a child's education. So much so that some parents are pushing their kids to study earlier and earlier for the unavoidable measure of all things academic: the SAT exams.

student studying SAT prep material

All around me this summer, parents are having their kids tutored for a test that isn't administered until March (or on the later side, next June). When I first heard that kids were studying for the SAT nine months in advance of the test, I panicked. How could I resist giving my child the same "edge" ... especially knowing that the playing field is anything but level?

To calm myself down, I started to question whether early test prep translated to a significant increase in scores. Even with the old model -- in which kids prepared just six weeks before the test -- it has been difficult to show a solid correlation. (See last month's WSJ article). The new trend has kids studying subject matter not normally introduced until the middle of 11th grade, even though college counselors suggest that it's wiser to take the test after learning those subjects from their teachers, in the classroom. Even principals at several test prep organizations, who clearly profit from parental anxiety, advised me that it was too early. I decided to hold off tutoring my daughter until a few months before the test.

Parents start down this road because kids have plenty of free time in the summer, and it is great to feel as though the time off is productive. But if it's debatable whether the extra time (and considerable dollars) will produce results, I am wondering whether it is actually the parents who are trying to prepare themselves for the stress of junior year by securing a summer tutor. If you ask the kids, who will sleep until 11:00 if not for their summer job or camp schedule, they'll tell you that they want to chill, and recover from the grind of 10th grade. It's possible that their version of test prep looks very different than ours. Maybe they're preparing for the long slog of 11th grade -- and the double whammy of SATs and subject tests -- by letting their minds wander, enjoying the nice weather, reveling in having their drivers' licenses, and hanging out with their friends. Maybe that's why it's called summer!

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2 comments so far | Post a comment now
Secret Mommy June 20, 2009, 12:48 PM

I hope you were just being tongue-in-cheek with your title, but I’m getting sort of tired of seeing and hearing the term “child-abuse” thrown around in such a cavalier way. Not every bad parenting decision is child abuse. Though I do agree that asking a teen to give up their summer to prepare months ahead for the SAT is a BAD parenting decision.

RachelAZ June 21, 2009, 4:22 PM

I can see how it may be viewed as “abuse”. If you don’t allow your child to be a child, that could be abuse. I think its stupid how parents are doing this stuff to their teens. Just let them have FUN!!!

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