New York: It’s appalling. It’s infuriating. It’s gasp-inducing.
But is it shocking?
After details emerged about wealthy parents allegedly paying thousands of dollars to cheat their children onto the “in” list at big-name schools, Colleen Paparella Ganjian, founder of D.C. College Counselling and an independent educational consultant in Northern Virginia, was left feeling upset but not surprised.
“College admissions is the first time that they aren’t able to give the child something they want. As a parent myself, I get it,” she said. “When parents are faced for the first time with the idea that they can’t step in and make it better after 18 years of doing that, that’s really scary, and probably more scary for the parent than for the child.”
That may even be a more generous assessment than others would give the recent news about the most egregious parental helicoptering in recent memory. Overparenting — though perhaps not always the illegal kind — is pervasive, and becoming more so from earlier ages. “My oldest is seven. I see this in Fairfax County, where they take these tests to get into (advanced academic) programmes,” Paparella Ganjian said. “Parents are doing test prep for their 6-year-olds. I start to think, ‘Gosh, should I have done this?’
“We have gotten to the point in today’s fast-paced, hyper-competitive society where parents of privilege are hiring multiple tutors for children already on the honour roll. Parents write college essays, or hire someone else to do it. They’re overscheduling children with extra-curriculars that play to college admissions instead of their children’s actual interests. It sounds like overkill, and yet everyone else is doing it. “So why not me?” they think.
The reason: Our children will grow up to be adults who don’t know how to do simple adult things. “We had to learn things at young ages, like how to speak to an adult on the phone,” said Catherine Lowry Franssen, professor of psychology at Longwood University. “Now, I have college students who don’t know how to make a phone call.”
Don't know how to make a call
Research shows, she said, that children who are over-parented are not good decision-makers, not able to fight their own battles. Simply put, she said, when they are turned out into the world, “they don’t know how to do the things”.
“This is the extreme, but that pressure is happening all over the place,” said Jessica Lahey, author of the “Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.”
Going to college represents “a really important, significant step toward psychological separation from one’s parent,” noted Elisabeth Lomotte, founder of the DC Counselling and Psychotherapy Centre. “It’s an important psychological time, and when there’s a hyperfocus on trying to get 20 more points on the SAT, we miss the opportunity to be focusing on what it means to be in that chapter with our children.”
But that’s sadly not what many parents are doing, says Richard Weissbourd, senior lecturer in education at Harvard’s graduate school of education. “It just a level of micromanaging going on,” he said. “I think it’s sending this depressing message that they can’t handle the process themselves.”