Understanding Privilege: A Guide for Teenagers

Teaching your children, especially your college-bound teenagers, about privilege is crucial. Some students will have to work their way through college, while others will have the financial support of trust funds. However, as parents, explaining this concept to our kids can be challenging. In this context, a therapist and a clinical psychologist provide tips for parents and teens to understand and discuss privilege.



  1. Understanding the concept of privilege: Parents and teens need to understand the concept of privilege and how it plays a role in higher education. Privilege refers to some individuals’ advantages and benefits based on their social and economic status, race, gender, and other factors.
  2. Recognizing privilege in the college admissions process: The recent college admissions scandal involving Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman highlights how privilege can play a role in the college admissions process. Bribing college coaches and administrators to accept a student is illegal.

    Still, it’s important to recognize that there are also legal ways in which privilege can give some students an unfair advantage in the admissions process.

  3. Discussing privilege with teens: Parents need to have open and honest conversations with their teens about privilege and how it can affect their college options. This can include discussing the financial challenges that some students may face and the ways in which privilege can give others an advantage.
  4. Encouraging students to work hard and be their best selves: While privilege can play a role in the college admissions process, it’s important to encourage teens to work hard and be their best selves. This includes encouraging them to take challenging classes, participate in extracurricular activities, and volunteer in their communities.
  5. Advocating for a more fair and equitable system: Parents and teens need to advocate for a more fair and honest higher education system. This can include supporting policies and initiatives that aim to level the playing field for students from all backgrounds and encourage universities to be more transparent about their admissions processes.

The College Admissions Scandal

A Lesson in Privilege The talk of the town…well, of parents of high schoolers…is the recent college admissions scandal that actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were involved in, in which a slew of parents secretly bribed competitive schools—like the University of Southern California—to accept their children. Sure, you can argue bribery has been going on for decades and is nothing new in the world of higher education. However, bribing college coaches and administrators to accept your child to a certain school is (very) illegal.
Whether a teenager has famous parents or not, the reality is when it comes to higher learning. Some college kids are more privileged than others. Some students will always struggle financially to pay for school, while others don’t worry about money for college thanks to a trust fund or perhaps their parents’ high-paying careers.

The recent college bribery scandal can be a valuable learning opportunity for your college-bound child. Now is a necessary time to have a meaningful conversation about privilege and how your teenager can navigate the collegiate world where some students have the privilege and others do not.

Working Your Way Through College: The Value of Hard Work


“Working their way through college teaches students precious skills that they will take with them into their professional careers, such as juggling multiple responsibilities at once, prioritization, time management, and being financially responsible,” says Kathleen Burnham LMSW, a Chatham, NJ-based therapist who works with many teens. She argues that students who have to worry about the cost of college genuinely understand the value of a dollar and are less likely to take things for granted in a way that a person who is handed everything by their parents might.

The Advantages of Working While in College Adds Burnham

“Also, working to support yourself through college keeps you busy, and busier people tend to be happier. There’s less time to engage in unproductive activities, less time to engage in substance abuse or procrastination, and other meaningless distractions.” She highlights that working while in college can bring many benefits, such as time management, financial responsibility, and prioritizing tasks and responsibilities.

The Impact of the College Admissions Scandal on Parents

Also, acknowledge that as a parent, it’s OK to feel annoyed at the college bribery story dominating the news. “I think people are so angry about this recent college scandal because it has become so expensive and competitive to attend college, and kids are sacrificing so much sleep, free time, their general well-being and are so incredibly anxious throughout high school about college, that it seems unbelievably unfair that some kids could take their spot just by having their parents write a large check,” explains Burnham. In addition, she notes that the college scandal can be frustrating for parents who have put a lot of effort and resources towards their child’s education, only to find out that some parents use illegal methods to secure their child’s admission.

The Importance of Raising Resilient Children


It also seems so outrageous because it’s yet another example of parents these days needing to control and curate everything in their kids’ lives instead of focusing on raising resilient children who can handle disappointment. Instead, Burnham emphasizes that parents should focus on raising children capable of handling disappointment and navigating through difficult situations rather than trying to control every aspect of their lives.

Navigating the College Environment with Privilege

Understanding Privilege:

As a college student, it can be difficult to avoid comparing yourself to your peers. Discussions and subtle hints of privilege may arise with students from diverse backgrounds and varying financial circumstances. However, teens need to be aware that they shouldn’t be quick to judge others based on their privilege or lack thereof.

Dr. Dara Bushman, a licensed clinical psychologist, advises, “You never know anyone’s backstory. They may not work or have financial challenges, but they may be emotionally depleted. There will always be someone else that has more or better. It does not define who you are. Our experiences build character and realism. Our experiences are just part of our story.”


Avoiding Resentment:

Teens need to focus on their own journey and not get caught up in feelings of resentment and jealousy towards others’ privileges. As Kathleen Burnham, a therapist, explains, “Comparing yourself to others is just a trap, and we rarely emerge from this feeling good about ourselves. It’s more important to accept your journey and not get stuck feeling resentment and jealousy towards other people’s privileges because that gets you nowhere.” Instead, Burnham suggests reminding students to focus on what they are grateful for in their life.