Gil Noam, Ed.D., Dr. Habil is Psychoanalyst Member of BPSI. His remarks originally appeared on Cognoscenti on March 27, 2019 and are reprinted below with permission from WBUR. The full commentary can be read here.
Alice Miller, the eminent Swiss psychoanalyst, wrote a bestselling book decades ago, “The Drama of the Gifted Child,” which addressed how parental narcissism holds children back from exploring their own creativity and potential. Children raised to live up to the dreams of narcissistic parents are forced to stifle their own dreams, and as a result, develop a false sense of self that lacks vitality and self-actualization.
In the wake of the recent college admissions bribery scandal, the topic of parental narcissism is more relevant than ever. At the heart of this scandal, to be sure, are a group of super-ambitious, brand-oriented adults. They wanted their youngsters — perhaps not gifted or hard-working enough for the elite college track — to get a piece of the elite glory. As a faculty member in such a University, as well as a researcher in youth development and clinical practice, I have been reflecting on how anything productive could emerge here.
What the parents implicated in this scandal ignored is the fact that adolescence and emerging adulthood is a time for children to explore their identities under protective conditions — in the the safety of home, college and among trusted adults and peers. This includes time to figure out what their ethical and moral beliefs are and how these relate to and potentially transcend the beliefs of their own parents. Now, just imagine what it’s like to embark on that exploratory journey after being admitted to a college under fraudulent circumstances, amidst a web of moral and ethical contradictions and dishonesties.
Parents who engage in fraud to get their kids into college commit egregious acts not only against society and all those who work hard for their admission, but also against their children.
Gil Noam, Ed.D., Dr. Habil, is a Psychoanalyst Member of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute (BPSI). He is the founder and director of The PEAR Institute: Partnerships in Education and Resilience at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital, and an associate professor at Harvard University.
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