College Admissions Bribery

Gordon Caplan of Greenwich, Conn., center, walks out of federal court Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in New York. Fifty people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation's most selective schools. Caplan, who is co-chairman of the international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, was accused of paying $75,000 to get a test supervisor to correct the answers on his daughter's ACT exam after she took it. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

From the allegations about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics to the feud between Kate Middleton and Megyn Markle, nothing fills a newsfeed quicker than a scandal. 

But not many scandals hit home quite like the recent college admissions case involving celebrities and high-high profile parents, who have bribed administrators to get their children into prestigious colleges.

As a child growing up on the hill, and as a parent raising a child on the hill, I’ve seen the obsession with academic and extra-curricular excellence, and, dare I say it?, I've seen a little fudging, bribery and manipulating along the way.

Does any of it have an effect on children? In the long run, are they better off with or without all the parental “help?”

Gerard Sobnosky, a Rolling Hills Estates marriage and family therapist, gave me some insight.

Q: What are some the consequences when parents cheat for children?

A: It can go two ways: A young child can learn that he’s not enough, that he doesn’t have enough agency and needs someone who is bigger and stronger that can set the world right for him and bring him the things he wants. If it continues as a teenager, it can hamper his growing independence which can lead to poor self-esteem, relying on others and feeling that he doesn’t deserve much for himself.

Or, he can learn that whatever the big, powerful person does and gets away with, is OK— that it’s OK to break the rules, if he can benefit from it. If he continues this behavior, it can be self-reinforcing where he feels entitled and superior.

Q: Neither sounds like a good path. What can we do to help our kids?

A: Help your kids learn that failure is a part of life, and that it’s not a catastrophe. You can learn from failure and be resilient and go on. If they feel failure is something that they have to avoid at all costs, then the child goes on with that as an adult and will try to keep that going and do whatever he needs to do so that failure doesn’t come into the picture.

Q: Why is it so hard for parents to realize and accept that failure helps them out in the long run?

A: Some parents need their child to be a good reflection of themselves and it becomes more about the parent than the child. Other parents just want their child to be as successful as they can. It starts from a good place, and it starts small—maybe staying home from school if he's not ready for a test, then helping him get into high school, then college ... It’s not a huge law-breaking thing. You’re just trying to set them up. But if you look at the overall impact, it can be detrimental, and once you’re on one of those paths, it can be easy to continue.

Q: How can parents get off that path?

A: We’re humans. We all want positive reinforcement and attention. But, if parents can recognize they’re getting reflected glory from their child, and if it’s a little too important to them, then that’s their clue to step away a bit.

Q: So, increase the distance and then what?

A: Tune into what his interests are, then help him explore and develop talents in those areas. That way your child will feel authentic in his world and in his skin. You want him to become the best version of who he is, even if he is going to be different from who you are. If there are things that has to be hidden or if he has to pretend who he is (i.e. an A student by cheating) that’s the not the best way to go through the world. That results in closing off sections of himself and building a false front that he presents to the world which can lead to a sense of being an impostor and the emotional fallout that comes along with that.

An important goal of parenting is to enable and accept who your child is as a separate person. You need to enable and accept that. The idea is not to enable children to become who you want them to be.

Gerard Sobnosky is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Rolling Hills Estates, where he offers psychotherapy and psychoanalysis to adults, couples and adolescents. He teaches psychoanalytic therapy through the China-American Psychoanalytic Alliance, and teaches dream analysis to local therapists. He is also a musician, performing locally with his rockabilly trio, Those Sunsabillys.

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