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How Lawyers Enabled the College Admissions Scandal

Why do the affluent see no boundaries to the black letter of the law? Primarily because many lawyers of celebrities and the uber-rich don’t really want to tell their clients they can’t do what they want because that advice can bring certain closure to a lucrative attorney-client relationship.

When lawyers, the gatekeepers of crossing the line into illegality, are silent, there is no line. The celebrities, who are accustomed to unlimited access to all things, don’t hesitate to bribe coaches and cheat on SAT exams. It won’t be much of a defense to say, “My attorney didn’t say I couldn’t!”

Perhaps now that these powerful and influential potential felons are more infamous than famous, their lawyers can advise them without equivocation that they are going to jail.

In the end, there’s one truth that a parent cannot escape: For everything you give your child, you take something away.

This may not be clear at first, but eventually what parents take from the children’s experiences will become apparent. When they give their children answers to questions, they take away the youngsters’ tenacity to discover answers on their own. These parents remove their kids’ ability to discern what might be a better answer for them personally, rather than to others generally.

When parents make their children’s path easy, they take away the struggle and deny them the education of learning perseverance, building personal character and integrity.

Most egregious, these parents navigate children away from failure — the greatest teacher of them all. In failure, kids can find a place to put both feet on their own emotional bottom. And in recognizing that lowly starting place, they gain a confidence in the only direction possible in their life: up!

In the past, parents who sought control were called “helicopter parents.” They insisted on being in the proximity of their children whenever possible. They appeared at every sporting event, school award program, chaperoned every school dance, even invited themselves to teenage parties where they would try to act cool and to persuade their kids’ young friends that mom and dad were just part of the crowd.

It didn’t work. It served no purpose but to soothe the need of the parents to be credited with some piece of their child’s success. Times have changed. The new generation of parents is more stealthy, more strategic. They are “drone parents.”

Drone parents have weaponized their actions with preschools, tutors, aptitude enhancements, honors programs, college entry advisers, college application analysis and academic psychologists. Today’s parents have become uber-strategic. Their mission is to eliminate impediments, obstacles and struggle that may inhibit their children’s direct linear path to college admission. Children’s feelings are considered unreliable.

Drone parents subscribe to a new moral directive: Use all means at your disposal to advance and secure the academic career of your child, even starting at age 3; blame teachers for your child’s lack of achievement; hire tutors who already know tomorrow’s test questions and answers; refuse failure and parade success.

If the child is not performing to expectation, drone parents identify someone other than their child as the underperformer. Meanwhile, the kids are lion cubs being spoon fed the expectation they will one day miraculously know how to hunt.

My young assistant Sarah just completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Irvine. Sarah’s parents never mapped out her future, but they always affirmed that education would help her find her passions. When she graduated from high school, she alone determined that she wanted to pursue higher education and her parents were proud of this decision. Once Sarah received her acceptances and rejections, she selected UC Irvine. Four years later, after a rewarding academic journey, she graduated. She is confident and secure, with a good self-image, and an awareness of what she wants. This is all the result of her parents trusting their daughter to make her own choices, encounter difficult struggles, fail if necessary and most important, pick herself up and begin to climb again.

Children need to learn their passions through a process of trial and error. When drone parents map the educational course according to the parent’s expectation, they are ensuring confusion in their child’s future — not to mention threatening the child’s sense of self-worth. When kids are unsure of who they are, they become insecure, afraid and often depressed. Consider that the gateway to adolescent alcoholism, drug use and suicide may often be soft and selfish parenting rather than beer and marijuana. After all, when a teenager is trying to find the “bottom” of a struggle, and the enabling and codependent mom and dad continue to avoid letting their child hit bottom, they cause their child to sink deeper.

The vitriolic players in today’s drama who are calling for harsh punishment of these lawbreakers are often other parents of Ivy League hopefuls who themselves may have used every means available to advance their own children. Many would consider compromising their own ethics if it wouldn’t involve jail time.

Yet parents are incensed when they witness another parent carving a more favorable path to their child’s academic success. Nepotism in college admissions among the children of the rich and famous has been a tradition for centuries. Would these parents suffer “admissions rage” if one of these celebrities donated $50 million to Yale and had their child chauffeured to New Haven on the first day of school? That is commonplace and perfectly legal.

Perhaps the lesson for parents who cheat the system is to reconsider their motivation and goals in parenting. Is it really to strengthen our kids and help them discover a unique path that makes their life a journey of exploration? Or are we so kid-centric that our expectation is for our kids is to be in lockstep with our vision instead of theirs?

Innocence is a precious treasure in children. The delicate balance for parents is to welcome struggles into our kids’ lives, allow them the freedom to make their own choices and work out their own struggles without offering solutions. Most important is that mom and dad are standing by with positive and encouraging affirmation, whether they succeed — or whether they fail.

Attorney Richard Watts is the author of “Entitlemania: How Not to Spoil Your Kids and What to Do If You Have” and “Fables of Fortune: What Rich People Have That You Don’t Want.” Twitter: @richwatts

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