What Short-Term Thinking Does to Our Kids

Have you read the latest updates on the largest college admissions bribery scandal in our history?  The original story was—at least 50 parents paid bribes to get their children admitted into prestigious universities, like Stanford, Yale, UCLA, Wake Forest, USC and others. It was an atrocious attempt by parents to control outcomes and is an ugly sign of the times—that adults will choose unethical means to reach their or their child’s goal.  After all, it’s a great story to tell at the country club.

The latest update provides a warning for us all.

USC just announced that they will not let the students who may be associated with the scandal register for any classes this fall. Yes, the very students who Mom or Dad intended to give an advantage—thanks to payoff money—now cannot even attend class. Their records are frozen and will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The students cannot even acquire their transcripts until their case is reviewed.

Wow. Talk about a reversal.

A Cautionary Tale

Here is a friendly reminder to you as a caring adult. When we adults attempt to control the outcomes in order to provide our kids a break—it usually backfires. By this I mean, the very parents who sought to make college admissions easier for their son or daughter, ended up making things worse. And while the parents will likely have to pay a large fine, these families are affluent. It will feel like a slap on the hand. The students, however, are now associated with this scandal and will likely feel:

  • Embarrassed. (They didn’t get in on their own merits.)
  • Penalized. (They will now fall behind in starting college.)
  • Mocked. (They will be the brunt of social media jokes.)

Shortcuts don’t pay off in the long run.

When parents intrude, their kids usually lose.

This story happens to be the most current example of our short-term thinking, but parents and teachers have done this frequently for the last three decades. May I remind you of some common scenarios I’ve witnessed?

  1. Parents rushing forgotten gym shorts or permission slips to the school.
  2. Dads offering to coach a sport so they can play their child first-string.
  3. Parents negotiating with teachers to get their child a better grade.
  4. Educators changing scores on standardized tests to gain better funding.

I’m not exactly sure what happened to us, but we’ve forgotten our ethics. We believe the end justifies the means. We’ve become pragmatists. This is sad, but what is most disheartening to me, is that—in the end—our children are the victims of our poor leadership. We feel the consequence a little. They feel it a lot. And as a young person, whose brain is still forming, these impressions last a lifetime. During their teenage years, their brain is developing from back to front, and their executive functioning hasn’t completely matured. It is very difficult to rewire a set of ethics, as a teen, when your own parents or teachers have misguided you in this way.

Changing Our Ways

Millions of young people from the Millennial generation and Generation Z have been wounded in these transactions. They fall prey to our good intentions yet bad decisions. If we really care about these students, we’ve got to change our ways. I have a little list I try to follow when guiding students or teaching students. I offer it here:

1. Think Long Term.

Will my decision model ethics and teach them to make wise choices in the long run?

2. Think Big Picture.

Does my decision exemplify seeing beyond my own interest, to see and serve others?

3. Think High Road.

Do my choices assume the best about others and model hope and belief in people?

I’ve written before about my wife Pam’s example for our kids at home. Years ago, when our daughter Bethany was four years old, the two of them were shopping for groceries. When they returned to the car, Pam suddenly realized she had a can of green beans that she failed to pay for. So, she turned the cart around and returned the vegetables to the cashier. When she did, the young clerk did a double take. She could not believe someone would do such an ethical thing. After all, it was just a can of green beans. So the clerk smiled and said, “Thanks, but you didn’t’ have to do this. It’s not a big deal.”  To which my wife replied, “It is when your child is watching.”

Let’s think long term when it comes to leading our kids.

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What Short-Term Thinking Does to Our Kids