If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all in the past few weeks, you’ve seen that several seemingly intelligent, professional, successful adults have been indicted on various charges involving college admissions fraud. There are many factors at play here, but the one that is most alarming is a trend in the behavior of parents who will do virtually anything to ensure the success of their children.
These people would have us believe that their actions are motivated by loving instincts and the desire to see their children living a happy life. In reality, what they have done has been a result of their own image being convolutedly connected to their kids’ academic and athletic resumes. From a young age, they sign their kids up for all the things and then parade them through this existence of accomplishment where being less than exceptional is not an option. Kids can’t just play basketball for fun. Kids have to play basketball from the age of seven and win every single game or tournament. Kids can’t just read for fun. Kids have to attain perfect scores on every spelling and standardized test. Why? Because some parent somewhere can’t handle the public humiliation of having a kid that isn’t “the best.” Kids can’t be kids because grown-ups use them as status symbols.
Parents can and should have legal ramifications for breaking the rules in order to get their kids a spot that should rightfully go to a kid that has worked their butt off to make their dreams happen all on their own. In essence, merit based achievements like scholarships, college admittance, starting spots on the team, etc., are being stolen from hard working student athletes and given to kids who care little about them so that parents can be the best at parenting. It’s unfair and disgusting, and doesn’t actually guarantee happiness for the student.
The message children receive is one of superiority without merit. What value does an accomplishment for a child have if the parent has earned it for them by way of controlling every moment of their life? How can a child develop self efficacy if they never have the chance to screw it all up and then fix it, unassisted? The job of a parent is not to go ahead in the path and remove all the stones or sticks or defeat the troll under the bridge before the child encounters them. The role of a parent is to fall back, and see which path the child wants to take, and then when the child says, “Hey mom, what do I do about this troll,” offer some advice from past experience and wish them good luck.
Parents are socially engineering their children’s friendships, leading them via academic leashes, and sticking them into athletic shoes that don’t fit them all in the name of being viewed as the best parent. A scholarship isn’t financial necessary for many of them, and yet they snatch them up like stickers on a “you did it!” chart. They don’t think their kids will have a happier life with an Ivy League education. Instead, they see their own happiness in bragging about the elite degree that their child just achieved. Is it the name of the student or of their parents that actually goes on that piece of paper?
Whether your kid is in preschool or graduating in a couple of months, do yourself a favor and let things go. You’ll be less stressed, and the joy you see on a kid’s face when they achieve something major of their own volition is immensely more profound and rewarding than handling the minutia of every potential moment of their existence. Children enjoy being granted self governance when possible. Taking a step back and letting go of the reigns does not make you a bad parent. It means you value the innate desires of your child and you believe in their ability to make it happen.
It also means you’re willing to let them screw up so that they can learn natural consequences to mistakes, and how to not beat themselves up for having a bad day. The alternative to this is a pattern of choices that leads to young adults who are entitled, codependent and detached from their responsibilities as a world citizen. Instead of focusing on our kids’ grades or internships or athletic accolades, the true measure of good parenting should be seen as those who contribute a respectful, considerate, emotionally intelligent adult who is willing to work hard to the rest of the world.
Anna Layer lives in Hartford with her three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.