The Antidote to “Operation Varsity Blues” Parenting

It isn’t possible to be a college parenting website without addressing the current Admissions Scandal sweeping across our news feeds. Parents have paid enormous sums of money to have their students fraudulently admitted to elite colleges.  They have doctored test scores, bribed consultants, coaches and admissions staff.  It’s the latest, most outrageous development in the college admissions parental involvement saga.

Parental reputations have progressed from what Laura Hamilton, author of Parenting to a Degree  calls “bystander parenting” to helicoptering to snow plow and lawnmower parenting and now to curling and what Dean Julie (Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult) has referred to as drone parenting.

Almost all of us are familiar with helicopter parents who hover over their children to make sure everything is OK – and then swoop in when they need to rescue them.  In case you are less familiar with the other terms, snow plow and lawn mower parents push problems and obstacles out of the way or mow down obstacles to clear a path for their students.  Curling parents go one step further –warming the ice and reducing any friction to help students slide forward in the direction the “sweeper” chooses.  And now, in light of this new scandal, we have drone parents; parents who pick their child up and deposit them where they (the parents) want them to be – sometimes without the student even realizing that it has happened.  And for at least one set of parents, that apparently means a trophy school that comes with bragging rights.

The admissions system is flawed, to be sure. It may even be broken. Hopefully, a lot of people will now be looking long and hard at how students are coached, tested, and admitted to schools. This scandal has shone a light on a host of problems, some illegal and many unethical or at least unfair.

But even as we cast blame on the system and its participants, we need to hold the mirror up to ourselves.

In some ways another aspect of the current admissions problem is a family problem, and this is why considering college parenting is so important. The parents who engaged in paying these huge sums of money to find a side door into an elite institution for their student appear to have been pursuing their own bragging rights.  They could not have been thinking about their students – or the messages that they were sending to those students.  “I don’t believe in your abilities.”  “I don’t trust that you are good enough on your own.” “I care more about the name brand institution than about finding the place where you fit and can thrive.”

There are many victims in this situation.  Yes, those students who should have been admitted and were displaced by those who had not ethically earned their admission have been hurt. But the admitted students themselves are also victims. The messages they have received from their parents and those around them – that they aren’t good enough on their own or without a trophy admission, will have lasting effects on them as individuals and certainly on their relationship with their parents.

The parents involved in this scandal clearly went too far, morally, ethically, and legally. But how many other parents send similar messages, often in far more subtle ways, to their students. “The status of the institution is all important.”  “You must be the best.” “You can’t do it on your own.”

Where does encouragement end and pressure begin?

The antidote to “Operation Varsity Blues” parenting is parenting that honors the students that we have and supports them as they find their own path, even when that means failing or falling down along the way.

At College Parent Central, we believe that most parents want the best for their students, although many of us struggle to know exactly what that is and how we can best help our student find that path. We believe that most parents want to ethically and appropriately find ways to support their students to achieve and succeed. We believe that most parents hope that the college years will not be entirely a letting go experience, but rather one that strengthens their relationship with their student – in spite of the changes in that relationship.

These have been the beliefs that have motivated us to publish College Parent Central for nearly ten years. These are the parents to whom we hope we speak.

Just as we cannot assume the worst of every college admission counselor, or every admission administrator, or every coach, we cannot assume the worst of every college parent.  We must continue to trust in what will, hopefully, be an improved system of college admissions, and we must continue to educate all parents about how to best support their students to and through college.

Thank you for reading this far. We hope you will continue to join us as we work to celebrate and raise the level of college parenting.


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