David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

Stealing Home

I don’t mean to creep you out but someone is stalking you.
This particular someone is watching your every move, listening to every word you say, studying your facial expressions, thinking about how you respond to every situation. There is no place you can hide, nothing you can do to disguise your intentions. Your thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and ethics are revealed.
I have no informed opinion as to whether or not Orwell’s Big Brother, Big Data, an omnipotent deity, or Santa Claus is ALSO paying attention to your movements, but I promise you that your kids are. Amazon may be making note of what kind of books you buy. Your kids are in tune to your very essence.
As far as your kids are concerned, it’s not just what you say, it’s not just where you spend your money, it’s not just what you do. It’s who you are. Because your children aren’t just watching your behavior, they’re absorbing. Your kids notice everything you do.
Consider this example of the behavior of a parent of an 11th grader immersed in the college admissions process. Then let’s consider what lesson that child might take away. “Remember not to tell anyone at your school who your SAT tutor is,” mom begins. “And keep secret your private admissions counselor. We hired someone in California so that no one in your high school will have employed the same one. We didn’t want to work with the college counselor at your school because she might favor another girl applying to the same college.”
What is the underlying message? What will the high school student observe about the values of her family?
  • That being admitted to a highly selective college (HSC) is more important than playing fair.
  • That being admitted to a HSC is more important than having a life.
  • That an independent counselor conveys an advantage in the HSC admissions process. (A highly dubious claim, by the way. Ethical independent admissions counselors emphasize the match between student and college. Ethical admissions counselors do not purport to game the system.)
  • That being admitted to a HSC is the ultimate goal even if–perhaps especially if-the student doesn’t have the ability or motivation to perform at that level. I have written copiously about the emotional wreckage of forcing a student of modest capacity and enthusiasm for her studies into a culture of high achieving peers. Matriculating at a highly selective college doesn’t make you a highly selective student any more than sleeping in a garage makes you a car.
  • That cheating is a family value.
  • That we are starving to death in our five million dollar home.
What else could you have done with those resources? For the price of all those round trip tickets to California to see the clandestine counselor, you could have fed every person in a third world village for a year. In the time it took you to fly cross-country, you could have gone camping with your child at half the state parks in Florida. Instead of sitting on an airplane, you could have read all the Harry Potter books.
Perhaps this author shouldn’t be surprised at the madness surrounding the HSC admissions process. Competitive sports are popular in our culture. Why wouldn’t we treat our children like little Peyton Mannings, judging them only by results? But at least the NFL has rules. Parents treat the admissions process to HSCs as if it were the Wild West.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Other Miami stories include…
Nanny Theft. The nanny you’ve hired to care for your two-year-old disappears from the park. Another parent has offered her more money and spirited her away while your back was turned.
Mommy bonus. Hard driving, absentee, workaholic father pays mother if their child is admitted to a HSC. This behavior is so wrong on so many levels that I don’t have words to describe.
But my inability to explain just how contraindicated it is to model stealing and bribing isn’t the point. The children are noticing the values of their parents. These children know that they are being treated like objects rather than actual people. These children know that their parents are thieves.
Your beloved children notice even the most subtle aspects of your personality, values, and beliefs. Give them the chance to observe and internalize what it best and brightest about you.


4 thoughts on “Stealing Home

  1. Alison

    I completely agree with this message and we did exactly that with our oldest son — he did his applications himself, no tutoring etc. He’s gotten into a very good “match” school so all good.

    But he’s having a hard time because a classmate who has worse grades and scores but whose parents hired the snazziest of snazzy counselors got into both of his first choice schools, while he did not. What do I tell him?

    1. David Post author

      Tell him what we chatted on the playground half a century ago, that “cheaters never prosper.”

      And tell him that who you are matters a great deal more than where you go. Tell him to study hard and ignore the haters. Where this other kid goes has nothing to do with him. Tell him that if he studies hard, in 20 years he can determine whether or not to give this other kid a job! 🙂

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