In March of 2019, the country was outraged when two famous actresses, Lori Loughlin and Felocity Hoffman, were discovered to have cheated in the college admission process. They paid college admissions coach, William (Rick) Singer to get their daughters into college unethically by helping them cheat on their college admissions test (SAT) as well as by blatantly lying about their credentials. Singer even went as far as to assist applicants to pose as recruited athletes in order to improve their chances of admission into prestigious colleges. These actresses were not alone in their participation. Dozens of other wealthy parents disregarded the values of honesty and integrity in order to “beat the system”.
Our country was fascinated by this scandal as it graced the cover of People Magazine, was viewed on many entertainment news shows and even a Lifetime movie was created. People could not believe how these beautiful, wealthy celebrities who had so much money and the ability to give their children every opportunity possible to succeed, would still feel the need to cheat. Even if their children did not attend college, they would still be set up for success based on their beautiful appearances, family connections and excessive bank accounts.
One of the most fascinating parts of this scandal was how people were so shocked by each celebrity’s ability to disregard the law in order to get the outcome they wanted. These celebrities were vilified as the personification of entitlement. When I first learned about this scandal, my perspective was a bit different. Instead of blaming and judging these two women as pariahs, I viewed them as a mere symptom of the rampant narcissism in our culture. For many years, children have been seen by parents as “extensions of themselves.” They view their own self-worth as directly correlated to how successful their children are. At the same time, getting accepted into college has become more difficult as college admittance rates have declined. The prevailing thought for many parents is simply that “You are not enough unless your children are extremely successful.”
I have seen this mindset expand past the classroom and even into the athletic world. Your worth as a parent is judged by whether or not your child makes the “travel team.”. Expectations have gotten higher and higher. It is not simply enough for your daughter to take dance classes for fun, she needs to be on a competitive dance team. It is not sufficient for your child who is applying to college to be a member of a club, he needs to be the president. All of these raised expectations lead to us putting pressure on our children, as well as on ourselves. Even getting your child to all of the travel games, dance practices and extracurricular activities takes an extreme amount of time and organization to coordinate the driving and carpooling. Parents are stressed out and competitive with each other as opposed to embracing all of our children’s successes in our community.
When my oldest daughter got accepted by an ivy league college, an old friend whom I had lost touch with reached out to me and said that is evidence of some “damn good parenting.” Although her intent was to be kind and complementary, it rubbed me the wrong way. If my two younger children don’t go to schools of that caliber does that make me any less of a parent? Upon reflection, I actually believe the opposite. It is much more challenging to support my youngest child who has a learning disability than my oldest who was self-motivated and independent. Attending IEP meetings, learning about ways to support dyslexia and finding the resources available are extremely challenging. Additionally, my younger daughter’s goal in finding a college isn’t simply to get into the most highly rated college, instead it is to enroll in the “best fit for her.”
As parents we need to be sensitive about the amount of pressure we are putting on ourselves and our children. Teenage depression, anxiety and suicide rates are extremely high. We need to work together to build up all of the children in our community, not just the athletic and academic superstars. More important than the question, “ Where is your child going to school?” is the question, “Is he being raised with character and good values?”
Hopefully, the College Admissions Scandal is a wakeup call to both parents and college admissions officers. We need to focus more on our childrens’ capacity for kindness, empathy and strong character traits, as opposed to putting pressure on them to “look perfect”.