Kids imitate their parents. They watch our every move. They hear our every word. They sense our every attitude. Our actions, good and bad, become models for their conduct.
Imagine what kind of messages were sent during the college admissions scandal.
Actress Lori Loughlin (“Full House”) and her husband Mossimo Gianulli are the latest parents to plead guilty in the scandal, which came to light last year. The Massachusetts District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that Loughlin and Gianulli will each plead guilty to conspiracy, likely resulting in jail time, fines and community service.
As a parenting author and founder of a nonprofit that partners with thousands of schools and universities around the world, I can’t help but wonder what Loughlin and the other parents involved in this scandal were communicating to their children.
Whether they know it or not, many parents of Generation Z kids are sending wrong messages by the very way they approach parenting. In millions of cases (certainly not all) their leadership styles are unhealthy and intrusive — the college scandal being a prime example. They believe they must seize control and do whatever is necessary to get their kids what they want. Or, what the parents themselves want. While it sounds like a noble pursuit, it’s actually back firing on a generation.
These are the message that I believe the intrusive and controlling parents involved in the cheating scandal sent to their children:
- You’re not able to succeed without me in this next stage of life. I feel I need to pay a bribe to ensure you get into the school of your choice; I don’t think you can do this without me. Who you are is not enough.
- Cheating is OK if it gets you what you want. What I did was illegal, but expediency rules the day. I do what I must do to obtain the outcomes I want most. You should cheat, too, if you feel it’s needed.
- The best initial reaction to charges against you is to deny them. If you get caught, look for loopholes to escape it. Just patch things up rather than make things right. Don’t take the blame if you can find someone else to take it.
What should Loughlin and the other parents do now? I believe the wisest response would be to meet with their children and model transparency and bravery. They can begin undoing the three messages above by saying:
- I actually believe you have what it takes to do life on your own. I regret I failed to communicate this to you. You’re sufficient for each challenge life throws at you, including getting into a good college. From now on, I will encourage you, but I’ll let you prove you’re the woman I believe you are.
- Whatever you do, maintain your integrity and character. The most important possession you have is your character and reputation. People will forget appearances, but they remember what you’re made of; shortcuts don’t pay off in the long run. I am sorry I neglected to model this for you.
- If you make a mistake, as I have, face the music. Don’t skirt issues. People are forgiving if you’re willing to admit your mistakes. They are unforgiving if you point fingers at others and pretend everything is fine. Own what you’ve done; be courageous enough to lead yourself well.
I suggest parents return to the basics. They need to model a life worth imitating and communicate words and messages that enable kids to become the best version of themselves.