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Child Development

The College Admissions Scandal Is Childhood Overindulgence

Hollywood stars overindulge children by bribing universities to gain entrance.

Lori Loughlin, Mossimo Giannulli, and Felicity Huffman, some of Hollywood’s well-known stars, have been charged along with dozens of other parents by the FBI for paying millions of dollars in bribes to get their children into prominent American universities according to the New York Times. In addition to bribing admissions counselors, they are accused of cheating on standardized tests, faking transcripts, and photoshopping images of extracurricular activities in order to help their children gain entrance to elite schools such as Yale University, University of Texas, UCLA, and Georgetown University.

Pexels/CC0 License
Source: Pexels/CC0 License

These parents used their money, position, and power to ensure that their children got accepted to prestigious universities in place of other more qualified student applicants. Is this an example of childhood overindulgence? To test this assertion we need to apply The Test of Four.

The Test of Four

To examine a situation for overindulgence we use a tool called the Test of Four. We ask four questions. Each question is based on our overindulgence research. A “Yes” answer to one or more questions indicates overindulgence (e.g., Too Much, Overnurture, Soft Structure).

1. Developmental Tasks?

Will doing or giving this to my child prevent him/her from learning what he/she should be learning at this age? Will it prevent my child from reaching a developmental goal or task? Yes.

The tasks of this stage focus on identity, separation, sexuality, and increased competence. They include becoming more self-sufficient, deciding on career/vocational goals by developing plans to reach these goals and developing personal moral values to guide one's own behavior.

2. Family Resources?

Does it use a disproportionate amount of family resources (money, time, attention, energy) to meet the wants not the needs of one or more of our children? Yes.

According to CNN, Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli were both charged with mail fraud for allegedly agreeing to pay bribes of $500,000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California. Wealthy parents who were charged paid to have individuals take college entrance exams for their children or to correct their answers. “Parents paid up to $6.5 million to get their kids into college.”

3. Whose Needs?

Whose needs are being met in this situation? Does it benefit the adult more than the child? 

In this case, it appears that the illegal actions to gain college admission benefits the parents more than the children. For example, Olivia Jade, daughter of Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli said she didn’t “really care about school” but wanted the “experience” of “partying.” The prestige is more important to the parents. If their children get into universities like Yale, Georgetown, and USC, wealthy parents can wear this "accomplishment" like a badge, showing everyone how smart their child is and how wonderful their parenting had been.

4. Possible Harm?

Does it hurt others, harm the community, or damage the planet in some way? Yes.

Harm to the privileged child. These parents were sending the wrong messages at a time when their children are being challenged to develop increased competence, become more self-sufficient, choose goals and plans to achieve them, and develop personal moral values that guide their lives. They were teaching the wrong life lessons. Unfortunately, the lessons that were learned are: “You are privileged.” “Wealth and privilege get you everything you want.” “Do whatever it takes to get what you want.” “I will take care of it for you and get you in even if it means breaking the rules.” “It is OK to cheat as long as you don’t get caught.”

Harm to legitimate talented students rejected. U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said, "For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, a genuinely talented student was rejected."

Harm to families with disabled students. Some wealthy parents faked their child’s disabilities and got a disability accommodation of an hour and a half extra to take their SAT exam. Ultimately this harms children and families who have legitimate disabilities and deserve accommodations.

Harm to reputations and creditability damaged. The reputation and creditability of all of the universities involved have suffered in the wake of this scandal. These institutions will have to do a significant amount of work to win back the confidence and trust of prospective students, the public, alumni, and donors.

Four for Four

When I applied the Test of Four to this issue I came up with four Yes answers. Remember, a Yes answer to one or more of the questions indicates overindulgence.

Why Overindulging Children Is Bad for Them

Our research shows that overindulgence is bad for your children for a variety of reasons. If you overindulge them they will more likely:

  1. need immediate gratification
  2. grow up to be disrespectful
  3. feel helpless
  4. confuse needs and wants
  5. develop an overblown sense of entitlement
  6. have poor boundaries
  7. engage in irresponsible behaviors
  8. lack skills
  9. feel ungrateful
  10. have poor self-control
  11. desire money, fame, and image rather than wanting to help others and find meaningful relationships
  12. have relationship problems

© 2019 David J. Bredehoft


Bredehoft, D. J., Mennicke, S. A., Potter, A. M., & Clarke, J. I. (1998). Perceptions attributed by adults to parental overindulgence during childhood. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education, 16(2), 3-17.

Clarke, J. I., Dawson, C., & Bredehoft, D. J. (2014). Appendix A: Parental overindulgence assessment tool. In Clarke, J. I., Bredehoft, D. J., & Dawson, C., How much is too much? Raising likeable, responsible, respectful children –from toddlers to teens- in an age of overindulgence(pp. 301-302). New York, Da Capo Press.

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