Unless you spent Spring Break hibernating in a cave, you've heard the hoopla surrounding the college admissions cheating scandal in which parents (including some well-known celebs) engaged in various forms of bribery in order to get their children into the top colleges they desired. Many people are shocked by how this could happen, but I'm betting most of them aren't teachers. Disappointed, yes. But not surprised.
Because a phenomenon we've seen for awhile now is what's truly at the root of this issue: some parents wanting more for their children than their children want for themselves. It's about being able to tell people that your child goes to (fill-in-the-blank) University and how that makes the parent feel rather than a genuine desire on the part of the child to do the hard work required to earn their way in authentically. Of course I don't know these people firsthand or know that this is the case--maybe these students legitimately did care about their schoolwork and worked hard but, despite their best efforts, struggled academically. In this case, resorting to bribery is obviously still wrong and reinforces the idea to the child that, if we can't get what we desire through hard work, we can get there through financial privilege and manipulation. It also models for the child a great lack of empathy for those students who have worked hard to earn their way in ethically.
The core issues of wanting more for our kids than they want for themselves and prioritizing the image others have of your child over truth and transparency are not new issues. After teaching elementary and middle school for 14 years I can tell you many a story that would seem to lay the groundwork for the issue underneath this scandal. One that comes to mind is a message I once received from a parent saying "I'd really like for _________ to have an A on the report card rather than a B, what can we do?" Of course the two pronouns that are troublesome here are the "I" in "I'd really like..." and the "we" in "what can we do?" You may think I'm mincing words here, but words are important, as they reveal a lot about our mindset. What is more important to this parent: the letter grade on the report card and people's perception of that or her child's true understanding of the material? A better question for the teacher might be (if a B is a true concern to her), "what material is my child not understanding or what behavior do you see that's interfering with his/her success and what help would you suggest?"
I can't tell you how many parents have asked over the years "how do I make my child (insert desired action)?"
How do I make him work harder?
How do I make her care?
How do I make him respect me?
How do I make her behave?
And the simple truth that's hard for some parents to hear is, we can't (and shouldn't strive to) make our children do anything.
The most powerful teaching tool I've found for children is modeling what we want for them through our own behavior. As the saying goes, our actions will be more powerful than our words. What they absorb from their surroundings, what is modeled day in and day out is, in my experience, the greatest indicator of who they will turn out to be. This is why what's at the core of conscious parenting is staying aware and accountable for our own mindset, words, & actions rather than being focused on changing our children.
The positive news I can report in all this is that, for as many cases of helicopter and lawnmower parenting I've seen in my years of teaching, I've also seen such stellar examples of parents understanding that allowing their children to struggle and even fail at times is critical to their learning and growth. As we've seen in our own personal adult lives, our greatest lessons often come from our greatest struggles. It's the same principle we see in addiction and codependency--that sometimes an addict has to hit a rock bottom in order to grow and change, that we can't "get them" to change.
I'm sure many teachers would agree with me that it's an uncomfortable but immensely rewarding process to watch a child fall, have an "a-ha" or wake up call (which is the result of the struggle/failure), make a change, and then watch them experience all the feels that come with experiencing authentic success. Nothing feels better than seeing that big smile, giving them that high-5, and being able to look them in the eye and say "see how cool it feels when you ________? (study hard, pay attention, show effort, etc)"
THIS is learning,
THIS is true achievement,
THIS is something to be proud of,
and this is the kind of learning and growth process that is so much more important for me to see in my son than a certain school name on his sweatshirt or a certain letter grade on his report card.
Many have asked, in regard to this scandal, how did we get here? How can people do things like this? But my teacher friends and I, we're not all that surprised because we've seen this kind of behavior in smaller ways. Look, I'm the first to acknowledge that parenting is really freaking HARD and I'm the last to claim that I do it right. Great parenting isn't about striving for perfection, but it IS about awareness. And I'm just offering this: from what I've seen over the years I've learned that's it's important to stay aware of the messages we're sending through our actions--to stay mindful of
valuing integrity over outer appearances,
of not trying to force our own agendas & dreams onto our kids,
and, most of all, not being more uncomfortable watching our kids struggle than we are with watching ourselves act out of integrity.