Cheating Our Children

I was very disheartened, last spring, when it was revealed that Marilee Jones, who had for a long time been the Dean of Admissions at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fabricated her academic credentials early in her career. She was one of my heroes!
Author:
Publish date:

I was very disheartened, last spring, when it was revealed that Marilee Jones, who had for a long time been the Dean of Admissions at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fabricated her academic credentials early in her career. She was one of my heroes! I remember listening to her once when she was interviewed on NPR, nodding my head and smiling, as I drove along, at her common-sense point of view. It was so refreshing to hear someone speaking from the lofty heights of the Ivy League actually trying to tone down the competitive frenzy of college admissions.

Ms. Jones co-wrote the book Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College, with pediatrician Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg, and it provides invaluable insights to both parents and teenagers about the pitfalls of too-aggressive tactics for getting into college, particularly when it’s a college that might not even be a great match for you. Not only that, but she’d done a great job bringing more female students to the historically male-dominated M.I.T.; since she was hired in 1979 the percentage of women attending the institution has gone from just 17 percent to nearly 50 percent.

So I hated to find out that this brilliant and successful woman had cheated, and I was so sad to see her lose her job; her career ruined and her great contributions to higher learning tainted by a mistake she made decades ago. I felt sorry for her, too, because I’m sure we’ve all been tempted at times to exaggerate our own achievements, whether to get an important job or simply impress someone at a party.

Lots of public people have fallen from grace because of falsified credentials, and yet in our increasingly competitive society there’s still too much emphasis, it seems, on winning, which quickly becomes winning at all costs, meaning you can lie your way to the top but just don’t get caught. Sometimes we’re even passing this flawed ethic on to our children.

Recently I was having dinner with a female friend whose two teenage boys have been heavily involved in several high school sports in a city quite a bit bigger than the one I live in. She said the two newspapers in their city would not accept stats on football, basketball, volleyball, or any other high school sport unless they came from the team coach in a sealed envelope. The reason? Too many parents had been submitting stats that were falsified in an effort to create a better record for their kid than the one they’d earned.

Ouch. It’s one thing to lie about one’s own achievements, but when a parent lies about their children’s achievements it’s kind of a triple whammy. They’re cheating the system; they’re letting their child know that no matter what they’ve accomplished, it’s not enough; and that furthermore, it’s okay to be dishonest if it helps you get ahead of the kid next to you. In other words the ends justify the means.

But of course, they don’t, and what’s really ironic is that this kind of micro-management of our children’s lives probably won’t even have the result we all desire in the long run: happy and successful children. As Marilee Jones herself said in a 2003 USA Today op-ed piece, “Parental over-involvement can rob a child of a chance to develop resilience and self-confidence, two key components for a happy life.” It would be better to let our children live with the consequences of how they honestly performed, for better or worse, and to let them know that as long as they’ve done their best, we couldn’t be more proud.

Besides, as Marilee Jones could tell us, you never know when those little lies might come back to get you. Really, really get you.

Comment

Related

Nature, Nurture, and the Occasional Stern Lecture

My friend Julie’s five-year old daughter whacked off a chunk of her hair the other day for the second time in the space of about ten days. So Julie was beside herself when the little imp turned right around and did it again the very next time she got hold of the scissors.

Knee Deep in Memories

I was sweeping up debris in the driveway last Saturday when my daughter, Belle, came up out of our trash can. She said, “Mama!” and gave me a look that absolutely blistered me.

How I Ruined Skiing for Our Whole Family

Do you have a favorite sport or activity you enjoy? Would you like to make sure no one else in your family likes it as much as you do? Well, read on! In fact, if you follow the easy steps I’ve outlined below you can probably count on your children hating your favorite thing and howling like hyenas whenever they’re forced (because physical force will be the only method left to you) to do it!

Thanks for Restaurants, Bananas and Plumbing

My kids Belle and Joe and I were out to dinner with a friend and her kids recently when my friend’s five year-old daughter, Zoe, looked up from her food long enough to proclaim in her sweet little-girl’s near-whisper of a voice, “This is the finest restaurant I’ve ever been in.”

Welcome to Motherhood Britney Spears

The last time I flipped through a People magazine in the checkout aisle at the grocery store I saw they had a flattering portrayal of the about-to-give-birth Britney Spears (will someone please, please tell me the Britney pregnancy photos are seriously digitally enhanced), including some pictures of her with her one-year old, Sean Preston.

A High Note for Belle

Our family just got back from watching a girls’ high school basketball game and I have to tell you my nerves are shot to smithereens. No, I wasn’t nervous about whether or not our school’s team would win the game; in fact we had to leave before the game was over so I don’t even know who won.

My Work Here is Done

It’s been five years now since my first book, “Confessions of a Slacker Mom,” was published. And not only have my royalty checks diminished to the point where they’ll barely cover the cost of a double Frappucino, it seems the book itself has now outlived its usefulness.

School Projects from Hell

My sister-in-law was telling me recently about a school project assigned to her daughter in kindergarten. This was the cheerful instruction the teacher sent home on a sheet of bright yellow paper: Bake a cookie which represents the Great Plains ~ Bring to class on Monday!