6 Lessons From the College Admission Scandal
Competitive parenting is a relatively new sport where all players seem to lose something. Kids lose their childhoods and parents lose their perspective. This recent college-admission scandal is an extreme example of modern parenting. Even if we aren’t morally or financially suited to pay the price these parents paid to secure their children’s futures, we might be acting on similar impulses.
I hope this story incites a collective pause to consider the question, “How do we want to raise our kids?” Do we want to raise kids with fear, scarcity, and anxiety? Or can we operate with hope and confidence that they want good things for their lives?
Let’s imagine that after some contemplation, we collectively agree to parent with conviction that kids need us to be positive, reliable ports in the storm that is the 21st century, with it’s barrage of bad news, stress, and negativity.
In this scenario, where we could just flip a switch and change our mindsets, we decide to prioritize the development of their independence, cultivation of mental strength, and building their character. If that was possible, what would we do differently?
What are the 6 lessons this college-admission scandal can teach us?
1.Talk up the importance of college engagement and being an active learner instead of rankings. Dispel the myth of the Ivy League–all but 1.27% of college applicants gain admittance into the Ivy League. Let’s get obsessed about talking to our kids about other things.
2. Your kid is a whole human being separate from you, with her own mind, strengths and challenges. She probably has super power that is unique to them. Know her strengths and nuture them. “Instead of trying to minimize a weakness… maximize a strength,” says Dr Lea Waters, author of The Strength Switch. You may be a doberman and she may be a golden-doodle. So if you’re trying to train her to be a doberman, you might want to invest your time/money resources in learning how to relate to a gold-doodle.
3. You are the adult, which means your role is to be the cheerful, uncool authority figure who offers both emotional availability and has boundaries. Specifically, your boundaries should protect their health and safety. This may be challenging that if you live in a community where there is pressure to college-resume build at age 11, be the authority and prioritize behaviors that protect their health and safety. I’m thinking screens, sleep and mental health.
4. Kids are stressed by the world and they are stressed by us. Give your kids something extraordinary, be a non-anxious presence in their lives. Transmit your faith and trust in who they are and their ability to grow. Be there to support them when they need a co-pilot or to brainstorm a solution to a challenge.
5. Give them agency over their lives. Teach them to trust themselves, even if it gets messy. Send the message that mistakes are detours, not dead ends. One of the things this scam shows is the “dismal outlook these parents must have had of their kids’ capabilities. “The parent is basically saying, ‘we needed to do all these things for you because we didn’t have confidence that you were going to get in yourself,” according to Harvard Senior Lecturer Richard Weissbourd.
In other words, don’t make them rely on the help and judgement of adults.
6. Let life be life–messy and unsanitized. This story of parents who are curating obstacle-free lives, where kids can’t deal with having sauce on their food, has to stop. Believe in your kid’s ability to recover and expose to life’s messiness. You will have to tolerate the discomfort of seeing them suffer, but you can do it. I believe in you!
We can be supportive, but can we ditch the fear?
I hope that this college-admission scandal is a wake-up call for parents. As in, can we pause to consider that the more-is-more approach to parenting robs children of both their childhoods and their personal agency?
Our children are individuals with some super-power. Let’s focus on finding it and coaxing it out. It’s okay to be the authority figure with boundaries–doing so may even help us to trust them, and encourage discipline, persistence and resilience. We can allow our kids the chance to know themselves as individuals, not as extensions of the adults around them.
There is still time to change the narrative about college being a place where you learn, meaning you should come out with stronger cognitive, verbal, reasoning abilities, and a competence in whatever you call your major. It’s much more than a bumper sticker.
We can be messengers that the world is their oyster at 18, instead of burdening them with our disappointment that they didn’t get into a school we feel amazing about saying when asked, “So, where is ________ going in the fall?”
I’m not saying this is easy, especially if your community is ultra-competitive. But considering the options and outcomes of choosing otherwise, trust that this investment in your relationship and your kid’s agency is the best one you can make.