By now, you’ve surely seen the headlines about the “Varsity Blues” scandal. The world is reacting with equal parts shock, anger, and mockery to the list of highly-connected (and sometimes famous) parents who lied, cheated, and scammed to get their children into competitive college programs. Once we move past the legal and moral issues of this scandal, we’re still left with an important question.
Why would parents act this way?
Parenting is About the Future
The goal of parenting has to do with the future. We recognize that childhood is but a brief moment in time and that so much of what we do as parents is really about setting our children up for success in the future. We want to give them the skills to be successful, happy, and confident. Ultimately, the goal of parenting is to provide our children with enough tools that they no longer need our assistance.
The only way to adequately prepare children for a life of independent adulthood is to give them opportunities to make their own mistakes and learn from them. Parents cannot expect children who have never faced any challenges on their own to suddenly have the skills necessary for adulthood. When the parents caught up in the college admission scandal made the choice to remove any obstacles for their children, they were not only cheating the system, they were cheating the children themselves and sending them the message that they were not capable. In short, these parents didn’t trust their kids to live their own lives.
Children Need Opportunities to Fail . . . Early and Often
It’s incredibly important that our first experiences with failure aren’t high stakes ones. If a child has never learned to fail and recover, they will be ill-equipped to handle a major obstacle like a rejected college admissions application or getting turned down for their dream job. While parents may want to shield their children from these negative experiences, the fact of the matter is that rejection and failure are a part life. They’re especially a part of life when you have high ambitions and big goals.
The best way to prepare students for success is to teach them how to fail early and often. The important thing is to provide low stakes opportunities to face failure through games, sports, and activities where failure is not devastating. Teach kids that failure is an inevitable part of learning and growing as they grow up. If you do, they’ll be ready to face even the harshest rejections down the line and bounce back quickly.
Learning Requires Trust
In order for a child to learn and grow, they need to know that they are trusted. Seeing our children as helpless and incapable of completing their own tasks tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. They pick up on our lack of trust in their abilities and begin to doubt themselves. When they doubt themselves, they are less likely to try new things and take risks. In the end, they end up learning less and requiring more and more support as their skills fail to develop over time.
Trusting our children gives them the confidence to push themselves further and gain more skills. When they know that we see them as capable, they are willing to try new things. When they know that trial and error is part of the process of growth, they are not afraid. Our trust in them is the foundation for all of those efforts, and we need to make sure that we put our words into practice by giving children the space to mess up and fix it on their own. We can be there for guidance and support, but we need to gradually back off and give them more and more room to do it on their own as they get older.
At the Tenney School, we believe in students’ abilities to succeed. We trust them to learn through their experiences and are here to guide them when they need the help.