Should the rich kids involved in the U.S. college scam be punished?

The children involved in the U.S. college admissions scam are facing the consequences of their parents’ decisions, but parenting experts warn the backlash towards them is misguided.

Olivia Jade Giannulli, daughter of Full House actor Lori Loughlin, is receiving floods of angry comments on social media after news broke that her parents allegedly paid US$500,000 in bribes for she and her sister to be designated as recruits for the University of Southern California’s crew team — despite the fact they reportedly don’t row.

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“It’s their parents’ behaviour and their parents have made all the decisions here to pull the kids in,” said Jennifer Kolari, a child and family therapist and founder of Connected Parenting.

“It’s difficult if the kids were in the whole time — then they’re responsible to some degree — but it’s certainly been guided by the parents, and that’s where the focus should be.”

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The implications of the scam on the kids

While 19-year-old Giannulli has not commented on the scam and was on the chairman of her school’s yacht when the news broke, other involved students have spoken out.

The son of marketing executive Jane Buckingham — who is accused of paying US$50,000 for a professional to take a college entrance exam in place of her son — told the Hollywood Reporter he is “sorry” for his mother’s actions despite being advised he shouldn’t “speak on the matter.”

“I know there are millions of kids out there both wealthy and less fortunate who grind their ass off just to have a shot at the college of their dreams,” Jack Buckingham said.

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“I am upset that I was unknowingly involved in a large scheme that helps give kids who may not work as hard as others an advantage over those who truly deserve those spots. For that I am sorry, though I know my word does not mean much to many people at the moment.”

Having to take responsibility for your parent’s actions is not only unfair, Kolari says learning that you didn’t get into a school on your own merit can be “devastating.”

“Often what kids do is look at a situation and go, ‘What else is not true? What else haven’t you told me?'” Kolari said. “There’s just this sense that the rug has been pulled out from under them and that nothing is real. That’s really traumatic, actually, for kids, and it makes them look at their parents differently.”

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Socially, parenting author Ann Douglas says that being entangled in a scam of this scale can have serious consequences. Not only will students likely receive different treatment from their peers, their future academic and job prospects may be compromised.

“I feel very sorry for , because in an era of social media shaming, your name follows you for a lifetime,” Douglas said. “When people do Google searches on these kids five or 10 years from now, they will be like, ‘Wow, that was that kid who was involved in that scandal.'”

What should happen to the kids?

According to Dona Matthews, a parenting author and expert, if kids haven’t yet started at the school where they were granted entrance unfairly, “it is probably in the kid’s best interest to withdraw their acceptance.”

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“This is both because of the social disapproval they are almost certain to be subjected to, and also because of their qualifications,” she said. “If they can’t get into a school without cheating, they shouldn’t be there, and will probably not succeed.”

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For kids already well into their degrees, Matthews says “their continued allowance to participate should be contingent on their academic success and contribution to the school to date,” which should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

“I would allow a student who got in through cheating to remain, if they have worked hard, are contributing to the university, and have not participated in any further cheating activities,” she said. “Those who are floundering or have participated in further cheating should be asked to leave.”

Douglas agrees that kids who got into school unfairly may have trouble succeeding without their parents’ help, but says society’s interest in punishing kids for their parents’ actions “seems to be more motivated out of a desire to humiliate people as opposed to actually fix a system that is clearly easy to rig.”

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The scam represents a larger parenting issue

Parenting experts say that the college scam is just a magnified example of the troubling ways parents try to intervene and control their children’s lives.

“Parents do their kids’ homework all the time, they pay tutors to do assignments for them, there’s lots of university parents who pay to have essays and lab reports done for ,” Kolari said. “So this is not new, this is happening on a smaller scale all the time.”

Douglas says we should be looking at why parents feel this immense pressure to assist their kids in the first place. She says today’s economic realities and “dog-eat-dog” world makes parents do everything in their power to help their children get ahead.

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“All parents are feeling that pressure right now, it’s not limited to any certain economic group,” she explained.

“Until we grapple with some things that are happening on the economic and cultural level, I think we are being really hard on the parents who are engaging in this behaviour because it makes so much sense… in terms of the pressure they’re feeling.”

What happens when you lie for your kids

Despite parents’ likely good intentions, pulling strings — legally or illegally — can have serious consequences on a child. Experts agree that when parents do their kids’ homework for them, for example, they’re sending a message that they don’t believe they can achieve things on their own.

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“What I see in my practice is this really does affect kids’ self-esteem,” Kolari said. “Kids feel that it’s not their , and that they haven’t earned it. They walk around with a sense of shame and not feeling quite worthy, and it seriously impacts their self-esteem.”

What’s more, cheating for your kids doesn’t actually give them the life skills they need to succeed. Kolari says children need to learn from their own mistakes and failures in order to become healthy adults.

“If we never allow children to learn the lesson of healthy adversity and working hard for something… then they’re never going to know that,” she said. “And you’re probably going to be helping them for their whole lives.”

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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