Fabius-Pompey Central School District
Timothy P. Ryan, Superintendent of Schools
1211 Mill Street
Fabius, NY 13063
Phone (315) 683-5301
Fax (315) 683-5827
Recently there has been ongoing news about a college admissions scandal involving some celebrities and other wealthy families. The scandal involved parents orchestrating cheating on various college admissions exams, misrepresenting athletic ability as well as high school athletic accomplishments and bribery. All of these actions were in an effort to guarantee their children admission into highly selective universities. Under normal circumstances, I would pay very little attention to what is happening with celebrities. But, for a couple of reasons, this news thread got my attention. In part, I thought of students from Fabius-Pompey who have recently graduated and are attending college as well as those students who are currently involved in the college application process. I know the hard work they have undertaken in order to earn admissions. I also have three children in undergraduate programs and one in graduate school and recall the stress they experienced when applying to colleges but also the growth which was the result of successfully navigating the process.
The term “Helicopter Parent” has been part of our dialogue for a long time. It describes a style of parenting where parents are over focused on their children. But this scandal has introduced me to new terms such as lawnmower parents, bulldozer parents and snowplow parents. All these terms describe parents who are removing obstacles which have any potential to stand in the way of their children’s success. The actress Julia Roberts, who was not involved in this scandal, may have hit the nail on the head when she commented on the situation. To paraphrase, she said that the saddest part of this issue was that the children involved were given the message that they were not good enough and not capable enough to succeed on their own.
The term helicopter parent was coined in 1969. Research over the last thirty to forty years involving this parenting type has shown the effects on children. When kids receive the message that their parents do not trust them to do things on their own, it leads to a decrease in self-confidence and self-esteem as well as feelings that they are not competent to deal with the stresses that life can throw their way. Not feeling as though they can handle their own problems can result in unhappiness, anxiety and loss of motivation to succeed. The bulldozer, lawnmower and snowplow parents involved in the admissions scandal seem to have taken “over parenting” to the next level.
Doing everything right but not being able to guarantee the outcome and the fact that there are not limitless opportunities are difficult lessons for children to learn. Regardless of how much we try to shield them, they will face those realities many times in their lives. Hopefully, they have been prepared to roll with the challenges and adjust as the situations require. When my oldest daughter was a junior in high school, she was facing a particularly stressful situation that was, in fact, causing my wife and me at least as much stress as our daughter. When I talked to her about how to handle the emotions involved with her challenges, she took a deep breath and said, “I know dad, no pressure no diamonds.” I don’t know where she picked up that phrase, but knowing that she saw value in the struggle allowed my wife and myself to trust her as she learned to overcome her own, unique obstacles.
As an educator, I am disappointed with the cheating that allowed a number of students to enroll into colleges without in fact earning those admissions slots. I can’t help thinking about students who may have earned the right to attend those colleges but were not given the opportunities because of this scandal. My hope is that we have allowed our children to struggle enough to develop the resiliency to adjust to disappointment and the humility to accept success.