Crossing the line from helping to hurting your kids: from helicopter to snowplow

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My kids making good use of their super powers.

Everyone I talked to was shocked about the parents who paid bribes to get their kids into college. It made me unbelievably angry–and a lot of my friends, too. What kind of person would do that?

A lot of us are helicopter parents, yet we’d never dream of going that far. The ‘paying to get your kids into a good school’ is a matter of degree of helicoptering or snowplowing. If you’re a mom who wouldn’t let your kids fail before college and were running to school with forgotten homework then it’s a matter of crossing a line — albeit one that is unethical and illegal — to bribing a college coach to let your kid get admission to the school. (Yes, I was the parent driving homework to school, including my son’s senior year of high school!)

In a New York Times article called “How parents are robbing their children of adulthood” by Claire Cain Miller and Jonah Engel Bromwich, they talk a lot about “Today’s ‘snowplow parents’ who keep their children’s futures obstacle-free — even when it means crossing ethical and legal boundaries.”

Here’s an except:

Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring their every activity, is so 20th century. Some affluent mothers and fathers now are more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.

Taken to its criminal extreme, that means bribing SAT proctors and paying off college coaches to get children in to elite colleges — and then going to great lengths to make sure they never face the humiliation of knowing how they got there.

Those are among the allegations in the recent college bribery scandal, in which 50 people were charged in a wide-ranging fraud to secure students admissions to colleges. According to the investigation, one parent lied about his son playing water polo, but then worried that the child would be perceived by his peers as “a bench warmer side door person.” (He was assured that his son wouldn’t have to actually be on the team.) Another, the charges said, paid someone to take the ACT for her son — and then pretended to proctor it for him herself, at home, so he would think he was the test-taker.

The parents charged in this investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, are far outside the norm. But they were acting as the ultimate snowplows: clearing the way for their children to get in to college, while shielding them from any of the difficulty, risk and potential disappointment of the process.

In its less outrageous — and wholly legal — form, snowplowing (also known as lawn-mowing and bulldozing) has become the most brazen mode of parenting of the privileged children in the everyone-gets-a-trophy generation.

It starts early, when parents get on wait lists for elite preschools before their babies are born and try to make sure their toddlers are never compelled to do anything that may frustrate them. It gets more intense when school starts: running a forgotten assignment to school or calling a coach to request that their child make the team.

Later, it’s writing them an excuse if they procrastinate on schoolwork, paying a college counselor thousands of dollars to perfect their applications or calling their professors to argue about a grade.

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The pre-school, elementary school years.

The article goes on to discuss how the recent college cheating scandal shows how current parenting practices have gone off the deep end:

The bribery scandal has “just highlighted an incredibly dark side of what has become normative, which is making sure that your kid has the best, is exposed to the best, has every advantage — without understanding how disabling that can be,” said Madeline Levine, a psychologist and the author of “Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies or ‘Fat Envelopes.’”

“They’ve cleared everything out of their kids’ way,” she said.

In her practice, Dr. Levine said, she regularly sees college freshmen who “have had to come home from Emory or Brown because they don’t have the minimal kinds of adult skills that one needs to be in college.”

One came home because there was a rat in the dorm room. Some didn’t like their roommates. Others said it was too much work, and they had never learned independent study skills. One didn’t like to eat food with sauce. Her whole life, her parents had helped her avoid sauce, calling friends before going to their houses for dinner. At college, she didn’t know how to cope with the cafeteria options — covered in sauce.

Speaking of having adult skills, I’ve written about the “Things Kids Need to Know Before College” here and for SwimSwam here. I’ve lived through the consequences of doing too much for my kids and not letting them fail. That’s why I write about it. I hope to save other parents from the same mistakes I made!

Here’s how the NY Times articles puts it:

If children have never faced an obstacle, what happens when they get into the real world?

They flounder, said Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshmen at Stanford and the author of “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.”

At Stanford, she said, she saw students rely on their parents to set up play dates with people in their dorm or complain to their child’s employers when an internship didn’t lead to a job. The root cause, she said, was parents who had never let their children make mistakes or face challenges.

Snowplow parents have it backward, Ms. Lythcott-Haims said: “The point is to prepare the kid for the road, instead of preparing the road for the kid.”

Learning to solve problems, take risks and overcome frustration are crucial life skills, many child development experts say, and if parents don’t let their children encounter failure, the children don’t acquire them. When a 3-year-old drops a dish and breaks it, she’s probably going to try not to drop it the next time. When a 20-year-old sleeps through a test, he’s probably not going to forget to set his alarm again.

Snowplowing has gone so far, they say, that many young people are in crisis, lacking these problem-solving skills and experiencing record rates of anxiety. There are now classes to teach children to practice failing, at college campuses around the country and even for preschoolers.

katrob 1What are your thoughts about the new level of snowplow parenting? If you’re a  millennial, did you experience helicopter or snowplow parents? How did it help you on your journey into college and adulthood?

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Now we know the truth: college admissions are rigged

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My son during his high school valedictorian speech.

I am more than upset at the news that rich celebrities and CEOs were bribing university coaches and SAT administrators to get their children into elite universities. It just goes to show how corrupt our country is and that the life lessons I instilled in my kids about hard work and effort — turn out to be “fake news.”

My son was valedictorian with nearly perfect SAT scores, swam, was a musician, a school leader in Junior State of America, went to Boys’ State and the State Science Fair, to name a few of his accomplishments. Plus, he volunteered in our community from an early age. He was rejected by eight of the nine colleges he applied to — many of the same schools these celebrities and rich folks bribed to get their kids admitted to. My son was heartbroken. He said everything I told him was false. He thought if he worked his butt off, got straight As, volunteered in the community and did everything right, he’d have his choice of schools. But, no. Sadly the system is rigged.

Here’s the indictment of the university coaches from Yale, Wake Forest, Stanford, USC, UCLA and Texas with descriptions of how they defrauded hard working athletes who lost out on those spots.

They actually made fake athletic profiles for kids who weren’t competitive at the sports they were being admitted to on the collegiate teams. For example, at USC, a girl was accepted to the Crew Team, who had never once rowed. They faked a profile of her with Regattas she never attended and used photos of other people in boats where the face wasn’t clear.

Besides athletics, this Newport Beach “college recruiter” named William “Rick” Singer paid off people administering the ACT and SAT tests. The kids were given extra time to take exams because of faked disabilities or their answers were changed after the test.

This quote from the from the Associated Press story called  “TV stars and coaches charged in college bribery scheme” by Alanna Durkin Richer and Collin Binkley is terribly upsetting:

Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children’s admission, officials said.

“For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected,” Lelling said.

Here’s more from the story:

BOSTON (AP) — Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were charged along with nearly 50 other people Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said.

Authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.

“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the $25 million bribery case, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, against 50 people in all.

The scandal is certain to inflame longstanding complaints that children of the wealthy and well-connected have the inside track in college admissions — sometimes through big, timely donations from their parents — and that privilege begets privilege.

At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents, many of them prominent in law, finance or business, were among those charged in the investigation. Dozens, including Huffman, were arrested by midday.

The coaches worked at such schools as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.

The person who was behind the college admissions scam is William “Rick” Singer from Newport Beach, CA. Here’s an article from CNN’s Sonia Moghe called “William ‘Rick’ Singer, the man at the center of the scheme, to appear in Boston court” that explains more about how the college admission scam operated:

William “Rick” Singer – the man who owned and operated Edge College and Career Network LLC (“The Key”) at the center of the collegiate scheme – will appear in Federal court in Boston today where he is expected to plead guilty.

A bio that appears on his website states Singer and team have coached, counseled and mentored over 90,000 adults.

He also wrote a book called “Getting In: Gaining Admission to your College of Choice.” In a description on Amazon, that book promises “easy to understand and simple to follow steps to improve the odds of getting in to the college of your choosing.”

One Amazon reviewer writes, “This book is a must — allow Rick Singer to wave his magic pixy dust all over your life. You will be changed for the better.”

Utah Swimming and Dive  Kat Wickham

(Photo / Steve C. Wilson / University of Utah) My daughter was recruited legitimately for swimming. In swimming, the times don’t lie.

 

What are your thoughts about parents bribing their children’s way into college? What lessons are these kids learning and how could the kids be kept in the dark?

That time my son gave away the family cat on Facebook

Five years ago, people called me up and texted to say they’d take the cat. I didn’t know we were getting rid of Olive! My own dad told me that my son had written a lengthy post on FaceBook about how we had to get rid of the cat. He is highly allergic, and we got kitten Olive after he left for college. But, he has barely been home since. Perhaps the cat is one reason why! Here’s my second post ever which details the time my son tried to give away Olive.

Robert’s asthma and allergy aBaby Oliveppointment–on his first day home from college for his four-week Christmas break–didn’t go well. The doctor said we could get rid of the cat or put Robert up in a hotel for four weeks.

We’ve only had baby Olive for a year. We’re not too attached, but still. She’s a member of our family. We rescued her from a local pet shelter and committed to be her loving family. And she’s Robert’s little sister’s cat. Not mine. I felt before we agreed to give Olive away, we needed to discuss this with little sis. Or, let Olive be an outdoor cat. We could give that a try! She’s in and out all the time.

I heard that Robert had posted on Facebook for a new home for Olive. Of course, as his loving mother, I’m filtered from seeing his posts. Grandpa, on the other hand, has full access to Robert’s FB account. He told me about the long and lengthy post about how I love the cat more than my own son. Short and shorter: we needed to get rid of the cat. Several people had said yes to adopt the furry feline.

Am I a terrible mother for not wanting to give away our pretty little kitty, Olive Bear?

Robert said I’m infected with Toxoplasma gondii and I’m in danger of turning into a crazy cat lady. I “googled” the toxo thing. It’s different than cat scratch fever, which can cause chills and a fever. T. gondii is a protein that invades your bloodstream and makes women crazy about cats. Or, it makes men crazy in a wild way. And there’s a link to schizophrenia. It’s why my OB GYN told me not to change the litter box while I was pregnant. However, he said that if I’d been around cats my entire life, most likely I was already infected. Great.

 I know about crazy cat ladies.We had one in my home town. She lived in a house filled with felines and feces. Hundreds of cats. My parents drove me to her house out in the country a few miles from town. The home badly needed paint and had broken floorboards with cats leaping in and out of the foundation. We picked an adorable calico kitten named Pansy to bring home. Pansy died a few weeks later from feline pneumonitis

I never had good luck with cats. I can name the ones we owned when I was young: “Ting, Tack, Tenni-runner, No Name, Thomasina I, Thomasina II, Little Leticia, Bianco, Streshia, OJ Simpson. We lost these cats (in addition to the aforementioned Pansy) by the time I reached first grade, due to an overzealous cat-hater neighbor. He caught them in a wooden trap, dropped them in a gunnysack, then tossed them in the river.

When we moved out into the country I had Soute´from second grade through high school. Coyotes and bears were kinder animals to our kitty than our former neighbor in town.

babyolive2 I was pregnant with Robert when we adopted Sherman. That allergy doctor told me for years to get rid of Sherman. I didn’t. Robert was allergic to lots more things than cats. Things I couldn’t control, like rye grass and oak trees. Sherman lived from 1992 until Obama’s inauguration day — don’t let me get started — when the neighbor’s dog jumped a wall and killed him. 

I know it’s terrible not to want to get rid of the cat. I never believed that a cat could be harmful to my child. Now, my son is living in beautiful Santa Barbara, going to college.
He’s only home for visits. Or maybe it is the toxoplasmosis that let’s me rationalize all this.

If you have suggestions on how to keep a cat when you have family members with allergies, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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Five years later, we have lived through the dilema of an allergic son and owning Olive the cat. When he’d come home for a weekend, I found a discount for a hotel a few blocks away. He got his fresh air and we kept the cat. Eventually, before he’d visit, I’d clean the house from top to bottom and made the kitty stay outside. This year, I invested in a heavy duty air filter and we can stay all together in peace. 

What would you do if your kids were allergic to your pets?

Now that they’re gone….

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View on my walk, after they’ve gone.

 

I wrote this three years ago, when both my kids came home for Thanksgiving weekend from college. I look back on this Thanksgiving fondly because it’s rare we got to spend the holiday together. Some years, my son stays up north near his girlfriend’s family. On another, my daughter couldn’t leave due to her college team’s swim practice schedule. This year, she was home but my son wasn’t. It was a great weekend and I’m thankful for every minute of it, but it was nice in 2015 to have them both home together.

 

It’s Sunday after Thanksgiving and I was so thankful to have my family together. My two college kids came home to be with us! I cleaned and shopped all week, preparing for the big event.

Now, they’re gone.

Some of my favorite parts of the weekend:

The four of us walked down Palm Canyon Drive on Thanksgiving afternoon, before we ate my home-cooked meal. I loved that. The kids were happy, we window shopped, laughed and talked. There were the traditional piggy back rides and racing around.

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Piggyback rides downtown.

Then came dinner and my dad joined us. He’s close to 84 and I’m thankful he’s close by and can share time with us.

I was getting tired after being on my feet for the past few days. I couldn’t help but look with jealousy at the weekenders coming in and picking up their mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing off a fully stocked shelf at a local grocery store, Jensen’s. Too easy, but seriously? Would anyone care?

Some good moments we had were swimming at our team’s Friday morning practice–kind of together. Although the masters were separated from the kids, it was a shared experience. I had a first! I managed to push myself out of the pool without swimming to the stairs. Having to swim past my daughter and her friends’ lane, who were also home from college, would have been too embarrassing. So I did it!

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Feeling slightly short with my daughter.

My son and I shared music. He’d play a song and then I’d give him a name of one to play. We went back forth while we drove to Palm Desert and back. He loves folk from the 60s and 70s. He listens to Joni Mitchell and some artists I’ve never heard of, but I enjoyed. I suggested “A Song for Juli,” by Jesse Colin Young and Nicolette Larson’s “Lotta Love,” plus a few more. We appreciate each other’s taste in music. He also shared a novella by Edan Lupucki that was a gem.

We went healthy food shopping and he taught my husband and I how to make chia pudding. Hmm.

My daughter and I had a delicious breakfast out together followed by a pedicure. Wonderful time together to talk and be mother and daughter like we used to be.

The four of us took the neighbor’s dog to the park and tossed the ball while my son jogged around us. It felt so good to play in the park where we spent so much of their younger days.

But, now they’re gone and here I am once again–alone at my computer. I do enjoy the freedom to write and finish some projects. I love my kids and I’m  blessed that they want to come home and we spend time being together.

I said I wasn’t going to cry this time when they left. In fact, I was surprised at how strong I was. Until the door closed behind them.

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When they were young at the beach.

3 Things About That Empty Nest

Four years ago, I wrote about my empty next and the three things I noticed. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that my kids were away at college–but they weren’t really gone. Not permanently. Now I have two fully-employed kids living their own adult lives. My nest is empty. Well, maybe not totally. My son came home for the weekend, my daughter visited two weeks ago. It just feels empty in between.
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Towels

Let’s start with towels. First off, we own too many of them. I gathered our towels into one room and separated the wheat from the chaff. I asked my son Robert if he needed any. I recall sending him off to college four years ago with a small set of matched towels. He’s survived with those two towels all this time? Plus, a beach towel of course — since he goes to UC Santa Barbara.

One of the most beautiful campuses ever. UCSB

One of the most beautiful campuses ever. UCSB

Eighteen towels and two dozen or so hand towels and washcloths sit on his bed, awaiting his return Thanksgiving weekend. These 18 towels didn’t make the cut to remain members of our family — unless they commit to being shredded into rags.

images-3The next thing I noticed about my towels is that I’m no longer washing them every time I turn around. I raised two overly hygienically-conscious kids and since they were swimmers, I believe they went through four or five towels daily — each — which never got a second use. I no longer have to hear the thump, thump, thump of my washing machine doing a jig with the over-packed, heavy towel load.

images-5Groceries

Have I mentioned that I raised two swimmers? We joined the Piranha Swim Team around 1999. I honestly believe that having my kids involved in swimming was the single best thing we ever did as parents. Sure, the kids worked hard. Yes, it was a time commitment. But, I will repeat, it was the single best thing we ever did. You can find a lot of my articles about the benefits here and here and here. Read what my friend has to say about swimming here.

Robert and Kat a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

Robert and Kat a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

So, what does this fact have to do with groceries? Well, it means I bought a lot of them. All the time. Robert drank a half gallon of milk a day and a box of Cinnamon Life every two days. Kat could eat whatever she wanted and she liked my sole, chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, and brown medley rice. At least I think she did because I was always cooking and buying more groceries.

Life-Cinnamon-Detail.sflbToday, my refrigerator is bare and I rarely cook. There’s no reason to buy more than three items at a time at the grocery store. When I enter the store, I don’t need a cart. I use the little hand-held basket.

images-4Dishes

 I cannot seem to get a load of dishes to wash for the life of me. My sink is empty. My dishwasher sits bare and lonely.

I guess that’s what they make Thanksgiving weekend for. I can’t wait for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year and having a full house once again.

This is a photo of Kat. She didn't want to be a ballerina. She wanted to swim!

Why Kat joined the swim team. “I don’t want to be a ballerina!”

What differences do you see in your home if you’re an empty nester?

4 Reasons Why Freshman Fail College

My Alma Mater. University of Washington.

My Alma Mater. University of Washington.

 

I wonder why so many kids fail college? I was shocked to read a statistic from the ACT that 50% of freshman students do not return for their second year. Then, 30% of those remaining, do not graduate within five years!

Why? What can we do to better prepare our kids for college? There is so much pressure on our kids to get into great schools. You’d think with the great expense, and all their work to get in, it would be a breeze once they are there. But, it’s not.

My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

Here’s my list of why I think kids fail their freshman year:

ONE

Too many kids go to college. I do not think everyone should go. When I was in high school the majority of students did not continue their education past high school. They were able to get jobs, support themselves and their families without a college education. Today, a college degree has become the norm and standard. There are many kids who would be better served to work for a few years, and then decide if they want to go to college. By having everyone go, and not everyone is equipped to go, some kids are set up for failure.


TWO

High school doesn’t prepare kids for college. The work is often spoon-fed by teachers in little lumps of daily assignments and reading. Having a syllabus with a couple dates on it and no day-to-day requirements is more what college is like. It takes discipline, motivation and self-determination to not procrastinate but to work and study in advance of deadlines.

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A gorgeous location. UCSB.

THREE

We do too much. As helicopter, hovering parents, we are afraid to let our kids fail. We don’t let our kids learn from their mistakes. They need to have more chores, part-time jobs or something to do besides homework. Some of the crazy, heavy AP schedules don’t allow for real-life experiences. Plus, we cater to our kids’ every need—even to the point of helping them complete projects or assignments. My conversation with four-time Olympian and former University of Texas head coach Jill Sterkel included some great advice that you can read on SwimSwam here. She believes in letting kids work out their problems in a less high-stakes environment. We need to give them room to do this.

FOUR

Millennials mature later, according to Kari Ellingson, Vice President at the University of Utah. I attended a talk by her at orientation with my daughter. I wrote more about her talk here. According to Ellingson, “It used to be people matured around 19, 20, 21. Today it’s 26, 27 or 28.” It’s no wonder they can’t handle the many demands of laundry, getting their own food, studying, etc. Maybe our kids are not mature enough to handle the responsibilities of college at age 18?

What can we do to help our kids be prepared for success in college?  I’ll talk to some more experts and will get back to you!  What do you think are the reasons why so many kids fail in college? I’d love to get your feedback.

My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

“Do good. Be good. We’ll be doing good.”

My son learning to dive with the swim team.

My son learning to dive with the swim team. He’s third from the right.

Four years ago, we had our first VRBO trip to the Santa Barbara area. We traveled their often and used to camp at Carpinteria State Beach in a tent, stay in a hotel or with friends. I wrote this in 2015 after our one week’s beach vacation with our kids. How fun that we got to relive this special vacation experience again two weeks ago. I’m proud to say my kids are doing good.

“Do good. Be good. We’ll be doing good.”

These are the words my son recorded for our voicemail message when he was four years old.  I saved that for years. What a thoughtful thing for our young son to say! My husband and I adopted that saying as our family motto.

A walk on the UCSB campus during our vacation.

A walk on the UCSB campus during our vacation.

I try to do good. Be good. Some days it’s a bigger struggle than others. But, it’s something to think about, too. What are we doing with our lives? Are we making a difference? Is the world a better place because we are in it?

A lot has to do with our outlook. I’m definitely one of the “glass is half full” types. I try to look at the positive and stay away from those who are negative. Turning on the TV can put you into negativity land. I truly believe that we can stay positive by removing negative influences around us. Turn off the TV. Listen to music. Read interesting books and essays. Swim! Like Ray Bradbury said, “Garbage in, garbage out!”

My kids at the age when my son recorded the voice mail message.

My kids at the age when my son recorded the voice mail message. Vacation pic from years ago.

After spending a week in paradise—otherwise known as Carpinteria, CA—I look back on our vacation as perfect. We have great friends who live there who inspire me. I always come home with so much energy from being around positive, hard-working entrepreneurs.

Also, my children spent a bit of the week with us. What a treat that was for me! With two college-aged kids, having them together was priceless. We rode bikes, hiked, swam in the ocean, sailed, shared meals together. It’s hard to leave them, but I’m so thankful for the time we had together. That’s my glass half full talking as I sit in my lonely, quiet house once again.

Our main mode of transportation on our vacation.

Our main mode of transportation on our vacation.

I’m proud to say my kids look truly happy. They are definitely doing and being good.

My kids and friend.

My kids and son’s girlfriend.

What family sayings do you have?