Parents Have Lost Their Minds About Higher Education

Every parent feels the pressure to help their kids succeed. We want our children to aim for the stars, do their best, and reach their goals. But in recent years, this burden has been “turned up to 11” as parents move heaven and earth to make sure their kids get into the college of their choice.

The lengths that some parents are willing to go is highlighted in a recent scandal involving wealthy families paying huge sums of money (some as much as $500,000) to bypass the typical college admissions process. This past Tuesday, federal prosecutors charged 50 people with crimes involving various types of cheating, lying, bribing, and mail fraud, all related to getting kids admitted to top-tier universities.

In a March 12 article in the New York Times titled “College Admissions Scandal: Actresses, Business Leaders and Other Wealthy Parents Charged,” details are given about the complicated scheme. Two famous actresses, Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were in on it, paying money to help get their kids into schools that couldn’t get into otherwise.

“The charges also underscored how college admissions have become so cutthroat and competitive that some have sought to break the rules. The authorities say the parents of some of the nation’s wealthiest and most privileged students sought to buy spots for their children at top universities.

It’s the Parents, Not the Kids

The fact that the college admissions process has come to this is proof that we have lost our ever-loving minds. Getting into the “right college” has become an obsession for many in our success-driven society. And while most parents will not go the extreme that these families did, that may not be because of their ethics but mainly because they don’t have the funds or connections to pull it off.

Let me be clear: while some teenagers feel some pressure to get into the right school, most of this lunacy is driven by parents.

According to The New York Times: “The parents are the prime movers of this fraud,” Andrew E. Lelling, the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said Tuesday during a news conference. 

In many of the cases, prosecutors said, the students were not aware that their parents were doctoring their test scores and lying to get them into school."

There is nothing wrong with wanting to bring out the best in your teenager as he or she transitions from high school to whatever comes next. However, when the culture leads some parents to feel obligated to take these extreme measures, then we can know that something is wrong.

Even if you would never consider doing such a thing for your child, it might be time to do some self-examination to see if perhaps you are a little too obsessed with SAT scores, class ranking, honors classes, extra-curricular activities, and all the other jewels on the college application crown you are helping your child to create.

Some Questions to Ask Yourself:

Question #1: “Do your kids actually need more pressure from you?”

Teenagers today are more stressed and plagued with more anxiety and depression than any generation before. The average life-expectancy in America is actually decreasing right now due to the high rates of teen suicide. In addition to their teachers putting extreme pressure on them, their smartphones are constantly telling them that they don’t measure up and that they are somehow missing out on the awesome life that everyone else is having.

In the midst of all of this crazy, they need their parents to be a safe, encouraging, and nurturing relationship that relieves some stress instead of lumping more of it on them. Parents, don’t become one more unrealistic expectation that your teenagers feel they can never adequately fulfill. We are killing our kids’ souls and it has to stop.

Question #2: “Do you think your kids can actually be successful at the level you are pushing them?”

Too many parents push their kids way beyond their actual capacity. They spend thousands on tutoring and SAT prep, getting their kids the help they need to hit the marks to get into “that school.” Many times, if the kid isn’t keeping up on his own, he will cheat on tests and assignments to get by. The end result is that he will get into a school or a program that he doesn’t have the innate ability to be successful in. Once his parents’ controlled and enhanced supervision is removed, he crashes and burns. It’s just not worth it.

Question #3: “Do you realize that being at the bottom of the top is a bad place to be?”

Let’s say your kid barely eeks by and gets into his “reach school,” that top-tier university that offers the prestige (and parental pride) you have always dreamed of. According to authors Levitt and Dubner in their groundbreaking book, Freakonomics, students at the bottom of their class in the Ivy League don’t succeed in life near as well as those students at the upper levels of their class at a less prestigious school. The bottom line: just because you can get into a respected school doesn’t mean you should go there.

Question #4: “Is your teenager actually suited for the education and career path you envision?”

Face the facts, maybe your kid wasn’t made for Harvard. Or even the great state university near you. Simply put, not everybody is college material. Some kids will do far better in a trade school or learning a skill or seeking an apprentiship in an industry where they might be truly successful. For those young adults that choose this route, they can begin to build their adult lives without the burden of a ton of school debt, which may have a ton of other benefits. Mike Rowe (the Dirty Jobs guy) has written and spoken on this at length.


Question #5: “Do you believe that higher education is what matters most?”

As we launch our kids into adulthood, helping them to find their educational and career path is certainly important, but it’s not all that matters. It’s not even at the top of the list. Parents who make sure their kids are well-educated but who do not focus on other issues of substance are missing the point entirely.

There are too many young adults entering the workforce who don’t have they character and values they will need to be good people. They don’t have their identify rooted in Christ, so they will spend their lives basing their worth on their achievement or on what others say about them. instead of finding purpose in their lives by using their skills and gifts to build the Kingdom of God, they settle for putting all their energies into building their own kingdoms.

This focus works great if your goal is for your kids to achieve the American dream. But is that your goal? Is that all you want for your kids. I, for one, want something bigger. Something grander. Something more beautiful in their lives.

Few Christian parents would admit that education is all that matters, but it’s the inadvertent message that many of our kids are getting. if it’s the main thing that you talk about, focus on, and ride them about, your kids probably believe it’s the most important thing.

For some parents in our culture, this obsession has reached the level of absolute insanity. And it has to stop.

For the sake of the hearts of our kids, it has to stop.

At our store for “Imperfect & Normal Families Only,” we have created a variety of books and resources to help you talk about what matters most with your kids. You might find just what you are looking for.

Barrett JohnsonComment