The largest college admissions scandal in history has many people shaking their heads in disgust.
Parents used bribery to get children into certain schools, paid off test administrators to change test scores and paid athletic directors and coaches to add names as potential recruits for sports teams. They did all this in the hopes of getting their kids admitted to prestigious schools. This is troubling on so many levels.
Many kids actually worked hard to earn their way into college, but they may have lost their place to someone whose parents worked to play the system. While the story is still unfolding, what is known exposes significant problems in the college admissions process, along with another major dilemma affecting many young people today: overzealous parents trying to snowplow the roads of life for their children.
One parent involved in the scandal arranged for someone else to take a college entrance exam for his son. He told the third party it was imperative that his son never know about it. Imagine being the son who thought he earned the score on that test, only to find out from the media that his father made it happen. Talk about robbing someone of their confidence. Could anything positive come out of this for this young man?
Parents who do things like this often say the motivation behind their behavior is wanting the best for their child, but at what cost? Keep in mind the definition of success for one child might look very different for another child. Parents who create a false sense of accomplishment for their child aren't helping; they are hurting. In the end, these young people will pay a hefty price for their parents' actions whether they knew about their parents' actions ahead of time or not.
Warren Buffett once told a group of Georgia Tech students, "If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don't care how big your bank account is, your life is a disaster." What Buffett clearly knows is that money can't buy you love or happiness, nor does it guarantee you success.
When parents cross the line and don't allow their children to fail and learn how to pick themselves up and keep putting one foot in front of the other, they are doing an extreme disservice to their children. Failure is a part of life and can be incredibly motivating when one isn't afraid of taking risks. Allowing them to experience failure and being there to support them as they regain their footing is one of the most powerful confidence builders there is.
Parents have to ask themselves if the motivation behind the behavior is self-serving. For example, does it just make you look good as a parent, or is this in your child's best interest?
If your child has no aspirations to attend college, none of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering you do will change that. In fact, it will likely take a huge toll on your parent-child relationship instead.
So what can parents do?
See your child for who he/she is in their gifts, talents, dreams and passions. They will likely have different passions and areas of giftedness that may take them on a path for which you haven't prepared. You may be tempted to tell them, "You will never be able to support yourself doing that."
Instead of saying those words, help them know what it will take to succeed. You can encourage them and put parameters around where you must draw the line. Then you have to be brave enough to let them try. Even if they fail, it doesn't mean it wasn't a valuable experience. It also doesn't mean they can't change their direction if they decide what they are doing isn't working.
Pediatrician and author Meg Meeker shared these thoughts in a blog post addressing this issue. "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."
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.