Are You An Enabling Parent?

We’ve talked about helicopter parents before and the effect that over-parenting has on high schoolers entering and enduring the college admissions process. But what about enabling? Are you familiar with that term? If not, let’s take a look at what it means to be an enabling parent when it comes to college admissions.

According to Darlene Albury, “an enabler is a person who by their actions make it easier for an addict to continue their self-destructive behavior …” In most contexts, this type of enabling usually applies to family, friends, or relatives of drug- or alcohol-dependent individuals. In our context here, I’m talking about the parents of high schoolers seeking to get into highly competitive colleges, perhaps the Ivy League or other so-called “elite” institutions of higher learning. The “self-destructive behavior” part of the above definition, as it applies to the college admissions process in many cases can be a self-delusional belief by the high schooler that s/he has a legitimate chance to beat the difficult odds and be accepted by one of those elite schools. That belief may be, in fact, an addiction to an impossible dream. I see this all too frequently in my work as an independent admissions counselor.

The enabling parent, who may also share this attraction to a virtually impossible-odds challenge, may then become the enabler through his or her “supportive” actions, thus feeding the dream, so to speak, which in many cases turns out to be a nightmare of frustration, disappointment, and self-loathing due to the consequences of admissions denial. You’ll probably be able to find a number of discussion forums on the Web (here’s The Best college-related forum) where enabling is a hot topic. I have observed many semi-heated exchanges among forum participants discussing how much help parents should offer their children during the college application process. One extreme faction adamantly states that parents shouldn’t even mail their kid’s application for them. The other extreme admits to writing {“editing,” as they encode it) essays for their kid. There are many shades in between.

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