No Cheating, Aunt Becky… Practicing What We Preach

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard discussions of upper-class privilege and criticism of the college admissions process in the wake of the college cheating scandal. All of these are valid points/worthwhile discussions to have, but for me, the lessons from this scandal hit much closer to home. I’m a parent to two toddlers and an infant, so I’m pretty far removed from the nightmare that is getting into and paying for college. But I’ve been reflecting since the scandal made headlines; it’s given me a moment to take stock of my parenting. How often am I so concerned about the results my kids will obtain that I’m willing to take away their opportunity to learn the lesson?

Kids today, at least in middle-class America, face a lot less difficulty than children in any other generation. Sure, they’ll be saddled with debt and probably won’t be able to buy a home until they’re in their 40’s, but in their day-to-day experiences, life is pretty comfortable. They want for little. They are over-scheduled, so they’re never bored. They have teachers held to state and national standards. They have parents who care about their parenting, who read books and blogs and place “baby on board” signs in their cars. They live under a government that even regulates the lead in gas and paint so their brains develop healthfully. We are parenting kids better now than we ever have in the past.

But there is a dark side to this trend. In an attempt to make life easier for our children, we’ve removed all obstacles in their path, so they feel no pain or disappointment, never face rejection and are set up for ultimate success. This is often marked by their GPA in high school, playing time in their sport, admission to a reputable college, and career choices that are safe, secure and prosperous. We care so much about where they end up that we’ve stopped caring about their journey. It’s all around me. I see it on the five-year-old soccer field, where parents lament playing time and criticize the coaches. I see it in the classroom, where parents contact teachers about extra credit opportunities and retesting when their child couldn’t care less about the B they are carrying in class. I see it in my own tendencies. Just the other day, after my son came home and told me he got in trouble for not listening in his preschool class, I made a point to ask the teacher about it. That’s good parenting, right? I was making sure my kid was following the rules and not misbehaving. But I left the conversation with his teacher feeling just a touch dirty, because I knew deep down that I wanted to hear from her that he wasn’t “the bad kid” and that he was on the appropriate track as much as I wanted to check in on his behavior.

It’s one thing to advocate for our kids, but what’s the goal and what’s the cost? We think things are unfair or we disagree with a decision, but instead of teaching our kids to speak up or to learn to adapt, we step in and fix it. If our kids earn something because we complained; if we give them an easy way out instead of letting them learn the hard way; if we prioritize the impact on their resume over the development of their character, what kind of kid will we have when it’s all said and done?

These are the thoughts I had as I read the news articles and Facebook posts about the cheating scandal that has embroiled beloved Aunt Becky, Felicity Huffman and countless other parents who cared more about the end result than letting their kids suffer the consequences of their actions. I’ve heard outrage and anger, but I thought to myself – we are all capable of this. We may not have the means or the opportunity. We may stop ourselves when it comes to doing something illegal. But don’t kid yourself. We are capable of making the same choice to rob our kids of the experience in the name of “getting them into a good school” or “getting them more playing time.” Each time when we step in and rescue them, we take away their chance to grow and learn.

For me, this scandal caused me to look inside my house and at the rocks I throw at others. What am I doing to ensure my child can compete? What life lessons am I skipping over in pursuit of the position on the team or the “A” grade? When is the last time I encouraged my child to seek his own solutions to problems first before I intervened, or allowed him to suffer the effects of a poor decision regardless of the long-term impact? I have years of parenting decisions ahead of me, and maybe this scandal can act as a reminder of what can happen when we let our desire for our children’s success outweigh the people we truly want them to become.