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MOMents - What's Fair in Parenting These Days

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Amy Powell. Courtesy
Amy Powell. Courtesy


As a college essay coach, I was dismayed to learn that one of my students was knocked from the top 10 percent of his class because he failed to take all of his unweighted classes during the summer where they would not count in his GPA. 

In this case, the class was gym and his unweighted A had the effect of bringing down his GPA against all the weighted classes (honors and AP classes) in which he received straight A’s. Silly as it sounds, it might mess him up for automatic admission to the state college of his choice. He lives in a state where high school students in the top 10 percent have automatic admission to state schools, thus kicking off a ridiculous frenzy to take health and gym in the summer.

If you take health, gym and all your unweighted classes in the summer, it means you are not outdoors, working at a camp, traveling or doing other meaningful things that may in fact make you better prepared for success at the state university of your choice and in life. It is all part of a troubling trend that got some ink recently in New York Magazine and elsewhere. What defines ethical parenting today? What should parents do when they have the ability to create an advantage for their own child that may be a disadvantage for another? What if it feels wrong but everyone else is doing it? Then, you may be at an unfair advantage if you don’t.

Someone I know returned from college recently and reported that many kids’ parents do their research papers for them. These children, unburdened by papers that other children do themselves, have more time for their other subjects, athletics, parties and gaming. I wonder how long the parent has been writing the papers? I wonder if that child would have qualified for admission at that college without parental help and how many others fall into that category? Maybe this behavior tracks back to high school.

But, that parent may have felt that she was competing with other parents and if she did not do her child’s work, he would be at a disadvantage. His paper would be up against other parent-written papers versus student-written papers.

While writing a child’s paper is clearly against the rules, there are many advantages that simply bend rules like the summer classes. The more people find allowable tricks that add up to a slight advantage, people will flock to them. If one top student learns another gets ahead with summer school, soon everyone will need to do it just to stay afloat.

The article in New York Magazine quotes a college freshman who felt horror-struck when she learned a friend had created an advantage on the SATs by taking an unprescribed Adderall that day. Then she questioned her own very expensive SAT tutoring and wondered if there was a difference. Both girls found an advantage not open to all students. So, where to draw the line?

Is helping a struggling child by hiring a tutor wrong? It often feels right, but does it become excessive at some point? People who use one strategy criticize those who use another. Those that have the expensive tutors might criticize the athletes who get in with lower grades but worked hard on the field. Is there an ethical difference?

Tied to it all is the question of why? What is it that we all hope to get this way? Do we seek admission to a better college? Once that is achieved, does that child need a parent or tutor to do the work behind the scenes? Where does it end?

Recently, the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York announced it was ceasing to recommend the ERB, a standardized test given to four-year-olds for admission to private kindergarten. The reason stated was that so many preschoolers are prepping so diligently for this test that it has ceased to measure anything except a parent’s resources. Again, what is the opportunity cost of a preschooler prepping for a test versus playing?

But, maybe this is the beginning of an end. Those that started all the craziness and are ones who have to end it. Parents will always struggle with these questions, but maybe some of the insanity will start to implode on itself. 

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