Here's the gist of it -- there are four very powerful psychological reasons why your student shouldn't have a tutor. Unless, of course, they're legitimately struggling in an academic subject and need the extra help.
When you hire your child a tutor they don't need, it sends a very powerful signal: "You can't do this on your own. You need help, every step of the way."
That's a major blow to their confidence, and could ultimately lead to "imposter syndrome," a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Instead, they attribute their success to external factors, like their tutor. (Note: if your child is a high-achieving female, she's especially at risk.) Read more >
It's because children build confidence by learning how to manipulate the world around them on their own. When you provide tutors unnecessarily, you rob them of this opportunity. Read more >
Tutor frenzy teaches kids that they can't do it on their own, so they become dependent on external sources of help. This prevents them from developing critical thinking and study skills.
Under these circumstances, the child won't learn how to be a responsible adult. So what are they going to do when they get to college? Continue having a tutor in every subject? What about after college? Are they going to get a job tutor? Read more >
Part of becoming an adult is taking accountability for your own actions. But when you have a tutor, this might never happen. When you do well on a test, you don't quite feel good about it, because it's not really a result you achieved through your own hard work; it's a result your parents paid someone to help you achieve.
And, equally important: when you do poorly, you don't have to feel too bad about it. I mean, it's not your fault; your tutor didn't prepare you well enough. They should've known that X would be on the test; they should've made a note in your study guide. It's not because you didn't work hard enough — it's because your tutor didn't.
When students don't feel a strong personal accountability for their grades, it diminishes the joy and pride they can feel at a job well done... and it diminishes the responsibility they feel for a bad outcome. Read more >
As a parent, one of the most important things you can do for your child's long-term mental health is to let them fail. Having a tutor gives them a shortcut.
Instead of facing a disappointing academic outcome — and asking themselves, "What did I do wrong? Did I really give it my best effort? What can I do differently next time?" — they rely on the tutor to figure things out for them. (And, as mentioned above, put at least some of the responsibility on the tutor, instead of owning their mistakes.)
Here's the thing about children: you can't insulate them from bad things forever. Eventually, they're going to run into problems you can't fix for them.
They're going to have to face a problem on their own. It's not if; it's when. And when the time comes, you want your child to have the emotional and cognitive maturity to turn a disappointment into a learning opportunity. Read more >
Want to know two more reasons unnecessary tutoring is bad for kids? This blog post contains a few "bonus tracks" that came out since I wrote the original article:
5. You should practice things like you're going to do them.
In You Won't Believe What This Cop Did After Disarming a Robber, or How to be Better at Everything, I shared a really shocking story about how, if you don't practice something like you're actually going to do it, things can go terribly, terribly wrong.
When you have a tutor walking you through every homework and every problem, you're not preparing effectively for the test or performance. When it comes time to do it on your own... you're going to fall flat on your face.
6. It eats into time your child could be spending on meaningful and engaging extracurricular pursuits.
As I wrote in Forget Defense Against the Dark Arts - Professor Moody Should Have Been a College Counselor,
Maybe APs are completely uninteresting to you because there's a pursuit that you want to spend more time on. Something academic, perhaps, like marine biology or ornithology. Or, perhaps, some obscure, non-academic pursuit. Let's pick an example a lot of high-achieving, helicopter-type parents might scoff at: fashion.
There's no reason you can't knock an admissions officer's socks off with your passion for fashion. Because there's no limit to how deep you can take that passion. You can use the energy that other students spend on APs to develop niche expertise, like Susan Gregg-Koger did with ModCloth -- what started as a girl collecting thrift store finds turned into a $15 million business. Or you can buy a sewing machine and take online courses in design -- maybe even create your own line and debut it at a local mall.
Or you can make your own online sewing course for teenage girls -- you've got this hypothesis that, if girls could only make or tailor their own clothes, everything would fit them perfectly and they'd have better self-esteem. You could even test yourhypothesis by running a study -- perhaps with an advisor from your high school or a local community college. (Want to know more? Check out One Model Tried On 10 Different Pairs of Size 16 Jeans. Here's Why They All Fit Differently.)
Or you could start your own blog or online store -- and earn money or social influence (or fail fantastically -- that's a valuable learning experience, too). Or make the best costumes your school play has ever had. Or organize a huge fundraiser to provide stylish, professional interview outfits for low-income women, single mothers, or the homeless population in your community. You could start a small personal shopping business for dads who need help picking out a gift for their daughters. Or... something else!
No college is going to look at your application and say, "Well, I guess it's cool that she provided interview clothes to 30 low-income mothers in her town and helped get 3 homeless women off the street... but I really wish she'd taken more APs." "I guess it's cool that she found a correlation between tailored clothing and self-esteem, and then launched an online course so she could do something about it -- but taking AP Stats with the rest of her class would have demonstrated realcuriosity."
Instead, they'll be impressed by the leadership, entrepreneurship, design thinking, data analysis, empathy, marketing, or whatever skills you learned along the way. They'd be impressed by your initiative. You'd be showing that you are the kind of student who will take advantage of all the amazing resources a top-tier university offers. Not just the library.
What is the best investment? In my opinion, it's not a tutor — it's a life coach.
Think of it this way: good grades and SAT scores are important, but they're not going to make your child stand out to a college admissions officer. What will? I wish there were an easy answer, but there isn't. Because it depends entirely on your child.
Instead of hiring a tutor, find someone who can help your child discover what they can do better than anyone else, whether it's vintage fashion, building tree forts, coming up with interesting research queries, or gathering pilot data and blogging about it.
Find someone who can help your child discover what they're truly excited and curious about, and the best possible way to develop and demonstrate this curiosity.
Find someone who can help connect your child with the best possible internships, projects and learning opportunities — not someone who's going to help them get a slightly better score on the SATs.