The recent college admission scandal highlights one of the most significant issues wealthy parents encounter: just because you can, does not mean you should.

The parents in this scandal seem to believe they were doing something positive for their children by paving admission into highly competitive universities through cheating and bribing. Although with the public eye on them at least some of the involved parents seem to feel some genuine shame. I wonder if somewhere inside they knew this was not only unfair to other kids working hard to earn spots at these colleges but not helping their own kids.

What did they think was the upside to getting a child into a competitive college this way as opposed to guiding them on the steps to earn their way in?

One of the most common and widespread negative effects of family wealth upon children in these families is UNEARNED OPPORTUNITY. Character, self-esteem, determination, grit – they come from working hard at something and experiencing a combination of failure and hard-won success over time. Getting many things and experiences of significant value without earning them is the recipe for entitlement and selfishness.

Does this mean every kid who inherits family money or works in a family business and gets ownership at some point is doomed for poor character? No. Of course not. These are wonderful opportunities, but they require enlightened parental intervention to ensure positive effects on those who receive them.

The enlightened parents I work with through my Purposeful Legacy Family Project follow most or all of these guidelines:

  • Insist their kids start at the bottom of a family business and prove themselves
  • Often require children to get a college degree (and when they do not, they take the above bullet even more seriously)
  • Get outside experience and a promotion at an outside firm – proving to themselves and the world that they are capable
  • Give children responsibilities at very young ages and hold them accountable (weeding gardens, clearing dishes off the table, putting away toys, volunteering to serve less fortunate people)
  • Talk to their children about the story of the family, the successes and failures along the way. Let the kids know who sacrificed, what they created and what key lessons and values made them successful.
  • Share lessons learned from the hard work and success of generations before them
  • Talk about money and material wealth AND the wealth of experiences (camping as a family, friendship, making the world a better place)

At least some of the characters involved in the scandal seem to feel a sincere sense of shame about their choices to get their kids into competitive colleges. Others smile for the cameras and sign autographs – these parents scare me the most.