Parenting Advice

When Admission is Rescinded Because of Racism

As Seen in Psychology Today

I’ve spent years trying to get parents to take a step back. I’m a true believer in the critical importance of failure for kids. Over the years, I’ve had conversations with parents about letting kids experience and grow from the discomfort of their flops. But then this started to happen and I had to wonder if it fit into my paradigm: Colleges Rescinding Admissions Offers as Racist Social Media Posts Emerge.

When the story was published in the New York Times last week, I was stunned. My shtick has always been to encourage parents to let kids earn and keep their consequences while supporting them through the process. This one pushed my thinking. Outside of physical safety and abuse, I can justify the value of going through any trial. I started wondering if this one was different.

The “And?” framework

Every day is a balancing act with kids. Do we intervene or do we support growth through struggle? The best way to examine our parenting decision-making is with some sort of framework. I’ve generally pushed parents to ask themselves a simple question each time they consider what to do when kids hit a bump in the road. The question is: “And?”

I’ll explain. Say your child is a bench-warmer on the soccer team. That can be painful to watch (there’s a reason some situations trigger an intense emotional reaction, but that’s for a different piece). When this happens, try to put yourself through the “And?” process. It goes something like this.

Parent: My daughter never gets enough playing time.

Inner Voice: And?

Parent: She must feel awful.

Inner Voice: And?

Parent: Feeling awful stinks.

Inner Voice: And?

Parent: Yeah, I get it. Feeling awful is a part of life. I’ll offer to talk about it if she wants but I can’t solve it for her.

It probably won’t be as smooth at the beginning, and it may turn out that in some cases, the parent will conclude that the issue needs intervention. But in all cases, it’s important to honestly assess the impact on the child and what messages we send by our reactions.

Consequences are good for kids

Younger children make mistakes that have low-risk consequences. Forgetting to do a page of math won’t ruin their life. Please don’t call the teacher asking how to get the points. It’s important not to protect kids from this kind of disappointment in their early and school-aged years. My fourth grader left a project until the day before it was due (sound familiar?). He had to miss family movie night to complete it. And if he hadn’t finished? The zero wouldn’t impact his chance of getting into a good college. I promise. Either way, it was an opportunity for my son to learn about the consequences of poor time management.

Teens, on the other hand, do stupid things. Mistakes in high school have the potential to either be growth opportunities or have serious consequences (in addition to turning our hair grey). Grades are an excellent example. It’s easy for parents to talk themselves into a negative spiral after a B in ninth-grade history. I was once approached by a dad of a 9th grader who earned a B in my class. He pleaded that his daughter couldn’t get a B or she would have to go to UC Irvine. I would have loved to respond with, “And?”

On the other hand, a suggestive picture sent to a boyfriend that gets shared with 100 kids can be devastating. And today, getting caught using a racial slur on social media can result in rescinded college admission. The trick for parents is how to figure out when to step in and if we want to prevent something before it happens.

We live in a ‘call-out’ world now. There are consequences.

Right or wrong, colleges are rescinding admission offers for high school seniors because of racist social media posts. In some cases, it’s one incident years earlier. In others, it may be a long history of such conduct. Either way, social media makes sure that our actions are documented for all time, and you can be sure that it will impact college admissions, relationships, and employment.

Most experts on children and social media focus on keeping kids safe from predators and exploitation. Obviously important. But there has been less talk about the consequences of potentially offensive content that’s posted. My kids aren’t allowed to have social media yet, but I already speak to them about the permanence of anything sent or posted, especially pictures and videos. I used to teach my high school students that they shouldn’t do anything online that they wouldn’t want to appear on the front page of the newspaper (yes, back in the ’90s we had print newspapers with front pages). article continues after advertisement

In today’s world, kids can sabotage themselves in so many ways. So what happens if a teenager is on video using a racial slur? Don’t get me wrong, I would be horrified and devastated if it were my child. But, again, teens do stupid things, and they are facing enormous consequences.

Back to the “And?” framework

College admission starts a young adult’s path. A rescinded admission offer is a significant consequence, no doubt. But even with something so impactful, parents can view the college admissions process using the “And?” framework, and can come to different conclusions.

Parent: I’m worried my son may have posted something that could cause a college to reject him or rescind his admissions offer.

Inner Voice: And?

Parent: He won’t get into college.

Inner Voice: And?

Parent: Well, I guess he will have consequences and I hope he’ll be strong enough to learn a lesson that he can carry through his life.

Another parent could have concluded that a rescinded college offer would have too large an impact on his life, it’s appropriate to step in.

So, after using the “And?” framework on this situation, I still believe that parents should step back and be intentional when they choose to intervene. And I still believe that kids should learn to accept the consequences of their actions, even if it seems immense. article continues after advertisement

I don’t generally tell parents what to do with a particular decision, but in this case, I’d like to think that if it were one of my children, I’d want them to experience the consequence of a rescinded admission because of a racial slur. And if someone told me that such a consequence will be awful for my child, my response would be, “And?”

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