There’s a strange figure who inhabits many students’ lives; an ethereal, ever-present spectre whose influence can be pernicious.

It’s the cousin who scored 1590.

You know who we mean; that relative (or maybe it’s a neighbor, or a classmate) who supposedly scored a 1590 (or got into Stanford, or whatever) whom your parents constantly bring up in an effort to inspire you to work even harder and to do even better on your SATs – but the effect can be exactly the opposite, can’t it? Children resent being compared to someone else whom their parents seem to wish were their child instead, parents can barely conceal their disappointment in their kids’ failure to measure up to the 1590 student, and all that makes kids feel inadequate, angry, discouraged, and ashamed.

Parents: Please think about the negative effects of these comparisons, no matter how well-meaning you are when you make them. Your kids might never say anything, but we can tell you from experience that they might not be responding as you intend to these pointed barbs. We understand that you want the very best for your children, and you believe they have unlimited potential, but sometimes, it’s best not to react impulsively when you think they could do better. It’s so easy to resort to these comparisons, and everyone seems to know a 1590 kid (or they think they do – we can tell you that kids and parents fudge their scores when boasting); parents often feel helpless when it comes to the SAT prep process, so they give in to these negative techniques (and there are others, some even worse) to try to exert some control over the situation. (Sports parents, you should recognize this phenomenon, too.)

Kids: Accept that your parents are trying to be helpful in their own way; they want you to succeed, and they are often at a loss as to how to help you when it comes to test prep. But it’s also essential not to let your self-image be eroded by these comparisons with Mx. 1590 (who might not even exist!). Put such comparisons in their proper perspective, and focus on you, not on someone else. No one achieves individuality through an SAT score, because no matter what you get, other people will have the same; instead of trying to match the cousin with the ridiculously high score, strive to develop yourself as an individual. Ultimately, that’s far more important.