As my phone exploded with texts from friends about the college admissions cheating scam, my reaction was sadness and non-surprise. It also forced me to reflect on my own achievement orientation and parenting style.
In the last month, my frustrated conversations with friends and family has involved testing accommodations, affirmative action against Asian students, sports recruiting, legacy admissions, inherent advantage for the affluent, donations, and most importantly, the tragic reality of suicide in colleges. I have also had really honest, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations with friends about how an elite college education can transform the social and economic path for some families and communities whereas for others (like mine) it is assumed it is part of our children’s path.
The college bribery and cheating scandal is about fraud, and how rich parents have made moral sacrifices and criminally participated in a scheme to get their kids into college. But the problem lies deeper and we need to start addressing the root causes of a system that is not only rigged, but creating anxiety for our kids.
Our kids are anxious, stressed out, tired, over diagnosed, and over medicated. The system as a whole is to blame – schools, colleges, testing organizations, counselors, therapists, and the list goes on and on. And while the system is broken, we as parents need to take responsibility.
When we send kids messages that success is dependent on getting into a certain college, we are stripping their soul of living a meaningful life. When we overschedule our kids so they can pad their resumes with varsity sports, club teams, volunteering, and justify that they love it, even if they don’t get enough sleep, we as parents need to take responsibility. When we let our kids take an overload of AP’s and honors classes, and say that their counselor said they can do it and its necessary for college admissions, and then we see our kids on edge, we as parents, need to take responsibility. When we stress about our kid’s ACT or SAT scores, and burden them with extra tutoring, we are playing into the system. When we justify getting our kids extra time on testing or letting them have unneeded medication to stay alert, while perhaps deep down inside knowing they don’t need it or we didn’t do everything to avoid it, we are sending our kids a message about what matters most to us.
As parents we need to send our kids a different message.
- Sleep, right now, is the most important aspect of your health and happiness.
- Who you are as a person matters more than what you achieve.
- I believe in you and your abilities, and am proud of what you choose to do.
- Teenage years should be a time of discovery.
- If you aren’t passionate about something, even if you have been doing it for a while, it’s ok to try something else.
- It is ok to fail. By failing, you learn.
- Be bored. That’s when creativity often bursts forth.
- Just because “everyone” is doing it, doesn’t mean you need to.
- When you are kind, I am so proud of you.
- How can we give back to the world?
- I love you.
Kahlil Gibran reminds us that:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
As parents, it is our responsibility to transition from an achievement-oriented discussion in our homes to one of nurturing our kids to know that they are special. Our role is to help guide our children to discover their unique talents to find connection and to serve their communities and their world. Let us remember that our children are sacred gifts. We can best serve them, and ourselves, with unfiltered love and genuine acceptance.
We invite you and your family to read Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement and More, a fun and accessible, fully illustrated go-to meditation guide written by none other than Mallika Chopra, wellness expert and the daughter of Deepak Chopra. For kids ages 8 to 12, this book is full of specific exercises to help deal with day-to-day challenges and tips to lead a healthier, happier, and more connected life.