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When Parenting Goes Wrong: What the College Admissions Scandal Can Teach Us

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Dr. Meg Meeker

This week, a story broke exposing the largest college admissions scandal prosecuted by the Department of Justice. Wealthy parents were caught using bribery to get their children into elite schools like the University of Southern California, Yale, and Stanford. Some paid off test administrators to change their kids’ test scores or in some cases, have the tests taken for them. Others paid off athletic directors to make it look like their child was attending as an athletic recruit. Now, the FBI is cracking down on all fifty people who were involved, including parents, SAT test administrators, college athletic directors and more.

This story says a lot about a corrupt college admissions process, misuse of wealth, power and privilege, but it also exposes a growing epidemic in parenting today, one that is ultimately harmful for the child: overparenting.

Parents care so much about their child succeeding—or at least appearing like she is succeeding—that they will spend half a million dollars to get their child into college. This is not right. It is not moral. And, it is not good parenting. The kids caught in the crossfire of this scandal won’t get to go to an elite university after all. What will happen to them? We can’t be sure, but we know this will be an obstacle to their success as adults, not something that helps them. Whether they were complicit in it or not, they are still kids, and the parents are still the parents. Parents, we should all know better.

Being over-involved in our kids’ lives does not help them. It cripples them. If you want to be a good parent, don’t overprotect your child. Prepare your child.

I recently spoke about this on my podcast with Millennial and Gen Z expert Dr. Tim Elmore. Dr. Elmore says two of the biggest mistakes you can make as a parent are 1. Not letting your child fail and 2. Focusing too much on your child’s happiness. This college admissions scandal is an example of the worst-case scenario that can happen when you make these mistakes with your child.

Let your child fail.

It’s during the trying times that we learn to be resilient and stand back up. However, it is difficult to imagine our kids suffering the heartache of failure, so we often go to great lengths to protect them from it. We do their homework, we fight their battles, some bribe elite universities, for fear they may not succeed.

As Dr. Elmore explains, these parents think they are protecting their child, when really, they are failing to prepare their child for adulthood and impairing their potential.

Dr. Elmore encourages parents to stop preventing their child from experiencing failure and start preparing them instead. Allow them to try a new sport or activity that you know they will have to work hard for. Then, when they mess up, allow it to be a learning opportunity by asking questions like, “Why do you think that happened? How did that make you feel? How could you do better next time?” Failure will teach them, not hurt them.

Don’t focus on your child’s happiness.

I think one of the worst things we can tell our children is, “I don’t care what you do as long as you’re happy.

Dr. Elmore says, “Happiness is a horrible goal but a wonderful byproduct.” When we focus on our child’s happiness, we set them up to look for happiness everywhere, in dating, in shopping in other activities that won’t actually bring lasting happiness to their lives.

Dr. Elmore suggests approaching our parenting goals differently: “I try to help my children identify their primary strengths and use them to serve the world around them, so they’re seeking purpose, not happiness.” If they find that purpose, happiness always follows.

This college admissions scandal can be a warning to us all. Maybe you are not bribing anyone to get your child into school, but most likely you have fallen prey to overparenting in some way or another. Remember that failure is not bad. Failure is our best teacher. And happiness is a good thing, but it should not be the focus. It’s a byproduct of a healthy, fulfilling life.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where, or if your child goes to college. It matters that he is prepared and equipped to lead a healthy adult life. Give him that and you will have given him more than an Ivy League education ever could.

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