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To All Bragging Parents, Spare Me Your Boasts About College

We’ve all heard that college admissions is outrageously competitive. Does this competitive college admissions environment create a competitive parenting scene? Because dang, what is it about college that provokes such dreadful parental behavior?

Something about the two-year slog that is now the college application process brings out the worst in us. Some parents start to display the braggiest, most obnoxious behavior.

I have seen otherwise delightful, polite people say and do things on behalf of their offspring that violate all known boundaries of social propriety. These bragging parents gloat about Junior’s test scores, GPAs, and achievements on Facebook (“Jeremy got a 35 on the ACT!!!”) (“Anna has lettered in three sports for all four years!”). They namedrop college visits to Ivy League schools. (“We’re looking at Harvard and Princeton, but Drew’s really set on Dartmouth.”) They ask where your child is applying, but purely as a means to evaluate how their child stacks up in comparison. (“Oh, your daughter’s applying there? We looked, but we think Andrea can do better.”)

They talk candidly about where “we” are applying and how “we” are working on our essay. They are IN THIS with every fiber of their being. Of course, they are filling out their kid’s applications. And they are writing the essays themselves or have hired someone else to do it. They casually mention their son’s tutor who says Junior is “killing it” on his SAT prep. (“What—you don’t have a tutor?”)

I have seen otherwise delightful, polite people say and do things on behalf of their offspring that violate all known boundaries of social propriety.

They raise their hands at the college counseling information sessions with multiple questions—detailed, specific questions that apply to no one else. Yet somehow you start to feel like you aren’t doing enough or are already slacking woefully behind. (“My son has completed applications to 30 schools but there are only 15 lines on the transcript request form. Should I fill out two, or attach another sheet to the first one?”) Send an email, for the love of God!

They announce with certainty that “Sam plans to major in biomedical engineering and design hybrid robotic prosthetics.” You look at your son and realize that he is more concerned with his Mage killing the Skeleton King in Diablo. So you worry even more that your son lacks ambition and purpose.

And then there’s the more sly, subtle first cousin of bragging—the humblebrag. This is for bragging parents who want to appear modest and self-effacing, while simultaneously trumpeting their kid’s triumphs. “We are so proud of Michael being accepted to Stanford! All those years of hard work are finally paying off!” or “Megan’s dreams are finally coming true. ND Class of 2018! #Grateful.”

The humblebrag can be even more irritating than outright bragging because you, the audience, are supposed to simultaneously congratulate them AND admire their false modesty (and, of course, the superior parenting that achieved these outstanding results).

You know that your mother raised you to be modest and let your accomplishments speak for themselves. You probably also know that nobody really cares about your child as much as you do, and possibly Grandma. But if you can’t help yourself and feel like you are going to burst if you can’t brag, then I say go big. Dispense with the subterfuge and false modesty, and instead just bask in the braggadocio: “My amazing, awesome kid is the eighth wonder of the world and is going to rule over all of you as a graduate of the Honors College of Ohio State! Bow down before her!”

Seriously— wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Jane Parent, former editor at Your Teen, is the parent of three.

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