"Entitled brat" or "destroyed" sense of self: The pitfalls of overparenting

Why overparenting is harmful for your child

In our School Matters series, we are focusing on the price of college admission – especially when you play by the rules.

Are you "overparenting" your child? In light of the massive college admissions scandal that broke last week, parents who will go to great lengths – even break the law – to increase their child's chances of getting into elite colleges have drawn scrutiny.  

"So there's a myth in America that you have to go to one of the U.S. News top 20 schools to have a great life. And it is dead wrong," said Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University and author of "How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success." 

Lythcott-Haims said the U.S. News & World Report college rankings has the country "in a stranglehold" – far from considering whether a school is the right fit for the student. In a recent survey of almost 12,000 parents and students, 73 percent reported their stress level during the college application process was "very high" or "high," according to The Princeton Review.

For Lythcott-Haims, the admissions scandal also breaks down another debate.

"I think the scandal has shown us that it's not the black and brown kids who are stealing the spots. It's the wealthy kids whose parents are snowplow parents who are just preparing the road for the kid instead of preparing the kid for the road, right? They're doing whatever it takes within their means to get their kid to that future," she said.  

Overparenting is harmful for your child, she added.

"It's terrible for your kid. OK, your kid either becomes a narcissistic, entitled brat because you've taught them I will rig the system for you – or their mental health is completely compromised because they've learned that you have rigged it for them, and their sense of self is destroyed," Lythcott-Haims said.

She said oftentimes when parents overparent, they're often doing it "for their own ego."

If you're constantly asking about your child's grades or their homework, Lythcott-Haims recommended a one-week cleanse.

"The one-week cleanse is this: you go to your kid and you say, 'Hey, kid, I know I'm always on you. I know I'm always nagging about your grades and scores, and that can make you feel that I don't think you care. But I know you do care. So for one week, I'm going to button it. I'm not going to ask you about those things.' Parents tell me there's more laughter in the homes. The parent-child relationship is healthier and happier because you're talking about life, not the academic transaction stuff. You're making your kid feel they matter to you because they exist," Lythcott-Haims said.

A Stanford sailing team coach was one of the 50 people charged by federal prosecutors in the college admissions case. Stanford said in a statement the coach had been terminated. Lythcott-Haims said she was "truly shocked" when she found out about Stanford being named in the charges.

"That might sound naive. But what I mean by that is, having been at Stanford for 14 years as an administrator, there was nothing in me that said anyone on that campus was capable of accepting bribes," she said, adding, "I think of the place as being one… filled with people full of integrity."