Adam Price Ph.D.

The Unmotivated Teen

Lori Loughlin, I've Got Some Advice for You

What we all can learn from the college admissions scandal.

Posted Apr 02, 2019

Dear Lori Loughlin:

Here’s a thought that could have saved your career, along with buckets of cash. Instead of spending $500,000 on a bogus donation to a rowing team your daughter never intended to join, you could have gotten Olivia to do something millions of children struggle with every night—their homework. Believe me, I know it’s not easy to get kids to study. Every day teens traipse in and out of my office and ask questions like “What’s the point of studying algebra when I’ll never use it?” Or, “Shakespeare lived how many years ago?” The advice I give their parents isn’t a tough love approach, but one that requires them to set expectations, step back, and when necessary hold their kids accountable. Although most of us would like to think we wouldn’t have gone to the lengths you did, setting limits is something many parents seem unable to do.

Your story really struck a nerve among the affluent professionals in my New York and suburban New Jersey private practice. “It’s all anyone is talking about at work,” one attorney told me. Several patients knew one of the families involved. Many suddenly felt the need to justify the thousands of dollars they’d spent on test preparation, private school tuition, and extra tutoring or coaching, all with an eye to the prize of admission to an “elite” college. Full disclosure: I spent a small fortune on some these same child-rearing upgrades myself.

I’ve long known that there were other, murkier avenues to the same ivy- or at least oak-lined path. Parents have told me outright that, even if their kids didn’t make their top choice school, they could always pull some strings at school number two or three. Though they did not break any laws, these parents were availing themselves of every last inch of their privilege. But this all-too-common use of special favors afforded only to the well-connected begs many questions. For one, where is the line between deploying available resources and squelching opportunity for those who worked harder but may not have the right Rolodex? I believe there is a lesson to be learned here for the very rich, the just plain rich, and even the rest of us.

It’s not easy to get kids to apply themselves in school and compete on the high-pressure elite college admissions circuit. However, your actions and those of the thirty-two other wealthy and powerful people who thought the rules did not apply to them have reminded us of something sorely missing in certain segments of our society: the values of hard work, education, and of picking yourself up after failure. No one said life is fair. There will always be a kid born on third base who thinks he hit a triple. But for the rest of us? We can use this travesty as an opportunity to talk to our kids about the importance of learning. We can help them see the relevance of studying a guy who died over 400 years ago and talks funny. Most important? We should remind them that the most significant component of a democracy is a well-educated populace.

The lesson isn’t that life is unfair, nor even that the bad guys always get caught (though it feels so good when they do). Rather, it is to live a value-driven life, even when others around you don’t. It is the only way to give meaning to our short time on earth.

If you don’t want them to be spoiled, don’t spoil them. Make them take out the trash and make their beds. This may not get your kid into Harvard or USC, but it will help them to become honest, hardworking, and happy human beings. 

Oh, while we’re at it, here are some tips to help get them to do their homework:

  1. Work with them to set reasonable expectations. If a “B” is within their reach, it should be their choice to pursue an “A.” Likewise, the “C” student struggling to raise his GPA should be congratulated for “B”s.
  2. Identify any obstacles in their way (a quiet place to study, too many distractions) and solve them.
  3. Give them the autonomy to get their work done. Don’t check on them every few minutes, or peek at their grades online. (That will drive you both crazy).
  4. On a pre-determined timeframe, check in to see how they are doing, perhaps mid-semester.
  5. If they are on track, great. But if not, suggest that they must need more time to do their work and take away video games, socializing, or another privilege until their grades improve. Don’t be afraid to take away their phone for the afternoon and evening. They can live without it

Finally, to instill independence, write down everything you do for them in a week. Review the list and cross off everything they can do for themselves. Then stop doing it. This will benefit both of you. Fostering independence will not only increase their college admissions appeal, and help them get through college when they get there,  but it is also your greatest responsibility as a parent.