What parents can learn from the college admissions scandal

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The end of the school year is only weeks away, and that means many seniors are anxiously waiting for college acceptance letters. For the college-bound, this time marks the culmination of years of preparation, from studying for exams to extracurricular activities and so much more. While much of the burden falls on the student – as it should – it’s understandable that parents will play a role as well.

But with the shocking allegations that emerged this week in the country’s largest college admissions scandal, many people are asking: At what point do parents overstep the boundary when it comes to helping their child? While most parents would not dream of participating in illegal activity to guarantee their child’s admittance to college, it’s not unusual for parents to enable their kids from time to time.

The dictionary describes enabling as allowing, permitting or giving means or resources to someone. When children are small, it’s normal to do things for them. As they grow, however, they should be taught to do things on their own. Unfortunately, that appears to be increasingly rare in today’s world of helicopter parenting.

So, how do you raise young adults to be self-sufficient?

  • Give them ownership: Quit using the word “we” when referring to things that only your son or daughter is involved in. For example, don’t say “We are applying to The Ohio State University or we’re hoping for a soccer scholarship.” Teens who take pride in their own accomplishments are more inclined to let that sense of ownership drive their success.
  • Let them fail. Failure is a normal and important part of life. It’s a way to learn valuable lessons and figure out how to balance risk and reward. Let your child fail a test when he hasn’t studied adequately, or suffer the consequences when he’s late for work. Kids who learn about failure early in life are better equipped to handle it as they age – when the stakes are significantly higher.
  • Put them to work. Teens are capable of more than you might think, so don’t hesitate to delegate some responsibilities. That means they can mow the lawn, get a part time job, create a budget, do their own laundry, get to school on time – and write their own college essays.
  • Believe in them. One of the saddest realities of the college cheating scandal is that some of these parents had little or no faith in their child’s abilities. They failed to celebrate their child’s unique strengths and achievements. As a parent, the most important thing you can do is love your child for who he is, and listen and offer encouragement along the way. It’s the surest way to let him develop a sense of self.

Still looking for that parenting manual? Who isn’t! Truth is, parenting is hard work, and every parent fails from time to time. Fortunately, it’s never too late to change course, start over and try again.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.