The alleged cheating scandal at Corona del Mar High School is an interesting case study in how students in one of the county's top-performing high schools responded to intense pressure to succeed. We're talking about a world where some children feel like their lives are over if they don't gain admission to the Ivy League or a handful of other selective colleges. That needs to change.

We're certainly not condoning what these students are accused of doing – using key loggers to pick up teacher passwords so they could change their grades and access tests. This kind of academic dishonesty, if proven to the satisfaction of the superintendent and school board, warrants discipline, even expulsion, and should be reflected on high school transcripts.

But it's important to identify and change what is wrong with an academic culture that puts an inordinate amount of pressure on kids to succeed while also promoting such a difficult-to-attain definition of success. Parents clearly want what's best for their children, but sometimes context – and rational thinking – are sacrificed at the altar of good intentions.

There are plenty of local success stories involving folks who didn't attend the nation's top colleges or get perfect grades in high school, and it's important to remind children that high school will not define the course of their entire lives (even though it may feel that way to them).

We agree that academic success is important. We agree that achievement is important. But our definitions of those terms require context and reasonableness. Above all, we need to remind children that the foundation of true success is character — something that's harder to explain to young people in a cut-and-paste world.

Kids, whose brains are still developing, do not always exhibit the best judgment. But they are also products of their environment. As adults we need to remind them that sometimes their fears and expectations about the future are irrational and that it's OK to get less than perfect grades, that life doesn't end with a rejection letter from M.I.T. We must remind them that they can succeed, no matter where they go to college, as long as they take an honest route to get there.