Meddling Parents Ruin Their Own Health – Back Off and Life Gets Better

By Sam Rosensohn

Ricky Taylor, a superior student and soccer player at Valley Regional High School, called the other day to ask if he should take the SAT test again.

Ricky had just got his test scores. He had what the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, and Wesleyan wanted. It was only Harvard that called for a slightly higher score on the Critical Reading. He had Harvard numbers for the Math and the Writing sections.

Ricky had taken the test for the first time, most kids suffer it twice, and his sister, Christine, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, told him not to bother taking it again – the extra 30 points wouldn’t be a deciding factor. His parents told Ricky that it was his decision.

“It’s his call,” Ricky’s dad, Rick Sr., said the next day as we had some laughs and kicked the question around. This dad was comfortable leaving the decision to his son.

Later that afternoon, I happened to see a story in the Wall Street Journal, “Meddling Parents Ruin Own Health,” which underscored why Rick and Evelyn Taylor’s call was such a good one.

“The fact that over involved parents can cause problems for their kids is well-known,” wrote Sue Shellenbarter. “Now, new research shows they can drive themselves nuts, too.”

The article referred to parents who constantly hover over their kids as “helicopter parents” and noted that “these over involved moms and dads reported more sadness, crying and negative beliefs about themselves” than parents who had backed away from micromanaging their children’s lives, according to a study unveiled last month at a conference of the Society for Research in Child Development in Atlanta.

Parental over involvement has increased dramatically over the last 20 years, according to Peter N. Stearns, provost of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and author of the book, Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Child-Rearing in America.

Stearns says that over involved parents end up far more worried and dissatisfied than parents 20 years ago who were not nearly as invested in their children’s lives. The well-intentioned coddling comes back to bite not only the unprepared teen, but the over invested parent.

So take a page from the Taylors’ book, raise your kids to make smart decisions, and find the laughs where you can. And while Ricky is not laughing about this, he did decide to go for the extra points.

That said, since many students are still in the middle of the SATs, lets talk quickly about the essay, which is graded on a 0-6 scale. There are two readers. The best score a student can receive is a 12.

I’m encouraging students to read their scored essays, which they can now download at the College Board’s site. At a minimum, it’s a starting point for review and preparation for the next go-round.

It may also present an opportunity to add 30 more points to the score. I’ve read a number of essays that were given a score of 9 that were not as good as many of the essays that were given a score of 8.

If a student scored 8 or less, check the rubric and see if you agree with the score. If you don’t, read the College Board letter that delivered the scores to see how to have the essay rescored.

The College Board noted the other day that the number of students who registered for the May 7 administration of the SAT is up from last year, and the pace of ongoing registration for the June 4 test is on track to exceed the June 2004’s numbers.

Not one of the 300,000 essays written for the March test was unreadable because of bad handwriting, though about 600 students wrote their essays in pen. This caused the essays to appear as blank pages when the sheets were scanned into the computer.

The essay should be written with a No. 2 pencil, and I suggest that when students complete the essay they go back and edit the paper by drawing a thin line through the portions of the paper they want to change.

By drawing a fine line through a few words and noting the change above the lined-through words, the scorer is certain to note the student took time to edit his paper. Careful editing will improve the position paper and win goodwill points; scorers like writers who care about the language.

As you may have noticed, national and state percentiles were not appointed to the writing section. Soon after the October SAT, the College Board says it will provide preliminary percentiles for the writing section on the Web, based on the first four administrations of the new writing section.

The College Board says it anticipates that the means and distributions of the new writing scores will be similar to those for critical reading and math. Final percentiles for a full cohort of test-takers will be reported in August 2006.

Scores for the May 7 test will be available to students at beginning May 23 and will be mailed to students on June 3.

The College Board is in the process of compiling and analyzing the results of a student survey that followed the first test on March 12. The findings are expected to be released this month on the College Board’s site.

The College Board is now encouraging students to bring snacks to the test to be eaten during the three five-minute breaks. Students should load their pockets up with energy bars and bring an extra-large water bottle filled to the top.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at