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Parents In The Midst Of The College Admissions Scandal: What Were They Thinking?

When I heard about the college admissions scandal earlier today, I was disappointed rather than being all that surprised.

It’s astounding the great lengths that some parents took to push their children ahead. I was asked what I thought would compel these parents. I explained that it’s a systemic issue. It started with societal pressures and inevitably led to parental misjudgment and misconduct.

In our society, power and wealth are envied and valued.

We see this across media outlets, in the disparities in salaries among our citizens, and how individuals are treated based on their status in society. Unfortunately, we have a society built on the incessant drive toward moving ahead at any cost.

For those who want it badly enough and who can afford it, the opportunities can often be infinite and boundary-less. The narcissistic and protective ego validates the rationalizations of why behaviors such as these are warranted, necessary, and permissible. It’s a breeding ground for helicopter parenting.

What allowed parents to follow through was their own justifications and personal fears.

Their belief might have been that if their children attended an elite university with a stellar reputation, they would be affording them with the best opportunities for their future; that it was their responsibility to create the “perfect” children that made them proud, whom they could boast about, and was a reflection on them and their outstanding parenting or flawless gene pool; and/or that they truly worried that their children would be disappointed, and wanted to spare them the unnecessary distress of being rejected.

What parents didn’t consider enough is the consequences of placing students in schools that may not have otherwise been qualified to attend. With the rise of depression, anxiety, and suicide rates within universities, the academic and social pressures may become progressively overwhelming and exorbitant, thus potentially negatively impacting their children.

From the parents’ perspective, they directly observed the admissions process becoming increasingly more stressful and competitive. They may have thought that they were rightfully and righteously sheltering their children from failure and rejection.

The downside of this is that they might have also been protecting their children from experiencing disappointment which is a human phenomenon, and which often fosters personal growth, from developing coping skills, and from enhancing effective problem solving through challenging experiences.

When privileged parents pay for high-priced test prep programs or personal tutors or finance personal trainers or coaches to improve their children’s athletic skills to increase the odds that they will be capable of being recruited as an athlete, their children still must put in the concerted effort and successfully perform.

By handing them opportunities on a silver platter, they are denying them the ability to develop a work ethic, a sense of efficacy, and a locus of control. This contradicts, counteracts, and is counterintuitive to their responsibilities as parents.

“The real victims in this case are the hardworking students,” who were displaced in the admissions process by “far less qualified students and their families who simply bought their way in,” said Andrew E. Lelling, the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts on Tuesday during a news conference.

What’s truly unfortunate is that, “The parents are the prime movers of this fraud,” said Mr. Lelling. In many of the cases, prosecutors said, the students were often not aware that their parents were doctoring their test scores and lying to get them into school (quoted by the NY Times).

As indicated, the other victims are the children who were violated, whereby decisions were made on their behalf without their awareness or consent.

I truly have compassion for all kids.

For those who were denied and who were rightfully deserving, and for those who were false-fully accepted and must face their parents who committed illegal acts for “their betterment,” and who are bound to be left questioning the authenticity of their college experience and understandably all their accomplishments.

My heart also goes out to the countless teens I see in my practice who are tired, overworked, and overwhelmed, and go through the rigor of the application process while they also are consumed with their academics (i.e., exams, papers, long and short-term projects, homework), socializing, extracurricular activities, college tours, and so much more.

This unfortunately isn’t a surprise.

This harrowing and dysfunctional process is regrettably bound to prompt misconduct because it’s notably failing all kids and their parents on so many levels.


Parents In The Midst Of The College Admissions Scandal: What Were They Thinking?

Michelle Maidenberg, Ph.D.

My name is Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D., MPH, LCSW-R, CGP. I maintain a practice in Harrison, NY ( and am the Co-Founder/Clinical Director of Thru My Eyes Foundation ( I'm an adjunct professor at NYU and enjoy publishing, presenting and doing advocacy work in health and mental health.

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APA Reference
Maidenberg, M. (2019). Parents In The Midst Of The College Admissions Scandal: What Were They Thinking?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Mar 2019
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