The College Admissions Scandal: The Lesson Nobody’s Talking About

How parents show lack of confidence in their kids, and contribute to their low self-esteem.

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The brouhaha of the college admissions scandal has faded, and there are other headlines to aggravate us. I want to go back there, because there’s a message that’s been lost  —  or not even spoken about  —  that falls solidly in the parenting arena.

Most of what we heard was about the despicable behavior of those involved, the parents and the middlemen. Then there was mention of a message our children are hearing, the one that says it’s okay to bypass the normal processes of getting into college; that money rules; that the system is rigged against them. All valid observations.

What are hardly mentioned are the messages sent to kids when parents take over this way: 

1. I don’t believe you are capable of accomplishing this on your own, so I will get involved and make sure it happens.

2. You are more worthy than others of the privilege of attending this college, regardless of your qualifications, or lack thereof.

The parents didn’t use these words, but the kids got the messages, loud and clear.

They are crippling. The first shows a lack of confidence in a child’s abilities. The second ignores that their child may indeed not be qualified for that college, and they learn entitlement.

You don’t have to buy your child’s way into college to be sending these messages. It’s quite common, and I’ve been among those to step in where I shouldn’t.

One instance, involving my mistaken good intentions, has stayed with me for years. This is one of my “things I’d rather you not know about me” moments. 

One of my kids was off-track in high school, failing courses and getting into all kinds of trouble. He also had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan for learning differences), which required a yearly re-evaluation. 

During a particularly rough time, I asked for expectations to be lowered just enough for him to pass a test. My fears were huge, especially regarding his almost non-existent self-esteem. Little did I know that I was contributing to that downward spiral, rather than helping him build on his strengths. Looking back, all it did was make me feel better.

Several years later, after he had made a major shift for the better, he told me something that rocked me to my core: what he heard was that I thought he couldn’t do it, and jumped in to do it for him. The bottom line was that I didn’t believe in him and he didn’t believe in himself. So much for good intentions. The road to hell really is paved with them.

When looking at the next scandal to hit the headlines, we would do well to examine ourselves. How does this issue apply to us? How do we, as parents, show up for our children? What are they learning from us? As their most important teachers, we owe it to them to be our best, so we can help them be their best.

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