[This post also appeared on the Today Show Parents blog, link here: Today Show Parents Community ]

I was talking to a student of mine who is a senior in high school at the school where I work as a substitute teacher, and I mentioned to her that my twins are sophomores at George Fox University.

“Oh, wow, George Fox is my dream school, but I didn’t get in. I was so disappointed,” she told me.

Disappointment happens to our kids; it’s part of life and there are other doors that will open.

On a similar note, a fellow parent on the ski team that my son was part of this past winter was telling me that his eighth grade son didn’t into Portland’s Jesuit High School for next school year.

“He didn’t even get on the waiting list,” this dad told me, adding that there were a variety of factors involved.

Setbacks occur.

These disappointments shared with me made me think about the recent college admissions scandal making headlines, where over 50 people have been charged in a cheating scheme to get their kids into elite big-name schools like Yale and Stanford. One of the reasons it has been such a big media deal is because several of the accused are famous people, including well-known actors and a fashion designer.

My first thought was, what were these parents thinking? Did they actually think they would get away with this?

Were they worried their kids couldn’t handle being disappointed if they didn’t get into their choice school? Did they want to make life easier for their kids? Did they not believe in their kid being able to get into a good school on their own that they felt the need to have to meddle – no worse, cheat? Or, perhaps it was some kind of ego issue going on in lives of these parents? Who wouldn’t want to say, “My kid attends Yale”? (separate our lives from our kids)

While there are so many people who collaborated in this college entrance-cheating scheme, the parents are of course the main ones on the hook and may face jail time.

Now, most parents would not DREAM of cheating to get their kids into a certain college, the entire situation did get me thinking of about five parenting and life lessons:

1. It’s okay to let our kids be disappointed; our children cannot always get what they want. We need to let the natural flow of life teach our kids that life is hard and we need to work for what we get, and if we don’t get what we are striving for, then we can try again or try something different. This practice begins in the early years of our kids’ lives.
2. We can’t wrap up life with a pretty little bow or rescue our kids all the time. Let them fail. Let them fall. Let them get up on their own. Failure teaches humility and that life is difficult and it’s okay, that’s how we learn; we need to allow our kids to struggle.
3. Our kids learn by example. Obviously this college cheating scandal is extreme and dishonest and against the law. but there are little ways people can cheat the system. One example comes to mind. Have you ever been at a grocery store with your kids and been given too much change back? It’s important to say something to the checker. Our kids are watching. Recently at the bank cashing a 200-dollar check, the teller began counting out 300 dollars and I looked up and reminded her I had only given her a 200-dollar check. In the car ride home, I was talking to, my teenage son about the situation and he reasoned, “Well, it would have been their fault,” which was of course, correct, technically. And, yet, saying something is still the right thing to do; it is not my money. I only had a 200-dollar check so that is how much I should get back. Because I noticed, I was still responsible. Kids see what we are doing and take mental note of it; they file away our actions and attitudes into a storage box of ideas on how to live.
4. We need to teach our kids that hard work is important and makes a difference. But, that they are going to have to do the work. That starts from a young age. Talk to your kids about future college choices and how their habits in school and life at an early age will impact what happens in the future
5. We need to make sure we don’t live through our kids. I read that in one case of the college admissions scandal that one of the kids involved didn’t even want to go to school I don’t know the motive behind that recent college admissions scandal but when someone is so vested in the schools their kids get into and the success their children have that they would cheat to get them ahead, something is desperately wrong. And, in one case I read that the child didn’t even want to go

Let our kids struggle. Let our kids work hard. Let our kids know that they are smart and that they can go after their dreams on their own. And, if not those dreams, then help them find another.

Like the student I had in class who didn’t get into George Fox. Turns out, she got into a different school, and is now thrilled with the adventure ahead, despite the initial setback in her first college choice; like the almost freshman who didn’t get into his choice high school, he’s now attending the school his sister goes to. Bonus for the parents. Like fill in the blank in our own lives.

May we all evaluate our motives and actions as we teach our kids work ethic and honesty, and may we always remember that our kids –and others – are watching and learning life lessons along the way.

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