Play and the Snowplow Parent

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The news has been rampant this last week with reporting on the parents who cheated in order to get their children into a top college. There is a name for this type of people, "Snowplow Parents", who clean out all of the obstacles to success so their children do not have to face them.

Though this week's news was connected to college admissions, I think that it takes place very early in life:

  • Parents try to get their children into the best preschools
  • so that they can get into the best private schools
  • so that they can get into elite high schools
  • so that they can get into the best colleges
  • so that they can become "successful".

I fully understand the desire to achieve the best for one's children but when all is said and done, do children who have had the obstacles cleared from their path from the age of two have the ability to sustain setbacks and overcome obstacles at the age of 32?

It starts early in life. These children, whose parents press them to succeed from the earliest age, have little time to play. Between school, homework, tutoring, playgroups and organized sports, they don't get time to simply daydream or play aimlessly (one of the joys of life at any age). 

And when they do play, they are given educational toys. Some of these playthings are simply work disguised as play. Kind of sad when you are an 8-year-old kid. Is it surprising that children escape to their mobile devices, immersing themselves so that adults cannot enter their digital sanctuary?

What I find most sad about the cheating scandal is that most adults, early in adult life, report feeling, at times, like frauds. They say: "I look like I know what I am doing but I don't and I hope no one finds out." Well, the children whose parents got them into college through misrepresentations really are frauds. They got started in life under false pretenses. What must it be like to know you are a fraud…not from a natural feeling of inadequacy, but from a real event?

Children need to play, to play a lot and to play without adults watching. It is a relatively safe way to learn how to recognize threats and challenges and ameliorate them without resorting to violence or appealing to an authority figure. It is only by failing and by falling (figuratively and physically) that they learn to judge risk and overcome failure.

The week's cheating scandal was more than about college. It is about an American lifestyle that is ultimately destructive to the individual and society. Its time that we let children, of any age, go back to being children and screwing up from time to time, just like their parents.


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