• MADELINE LEVINE, PhD., The Price of Privilege & Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success
    Madeline Levine, PhD,  is a local psychologist who has written two wonderful books and is often quoted in articles.  Her books, The Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well are two that I highly recommend.  

    Levine is a Marin parent herself; both of her children attended Redwood High.  Throughout her books, she reflects on her own parenting decisions, both good and not so good, and provides insight into how working with other Marin children helped her to develop a body of knowledge to become a more effective parent and help you become one too.

    Levine discusses her work with high achieving students in Marin, OUR STUDENTS, who seriously consider hacking into Eschool to raise math grades, consider suicide when their SAT scores are lower than anticipated, and fear going home if they don't make varsity soccer.

    Adolescent suicide has quadrupled since 1950.  

    Levine explains many of the reasons why Marin students, who appear to have so much, can feel so empty inside. She focuses on the importance of autonomy (what we commonly refer to as independence), competence, and interpersonal relationships, as being central to psychological health.  When parents coerce, intrude upon and take over for children, they interfere with children's ability to construct a sense of self. Our children tend to either  withdraw or ratchet up their involvement in activities, leaving them less able to accomplish the tasks of adolescence - developing their own friendships, interest, self-control and independence.

    Fewer and fewer affluent teens are able to resist the constant pressure to excel.  Between accelerated courses, multiple extracurricular activities, premature preparation for college, coaches and tutors engaged to wring the last bit of performance out of them, many kids find themselves scheduled to within an inch of their lives. 

    Being pushed toward ever increasing levels of achievement leaves little time for internal exploration which is critical for the process of self-development.  It cannot be rushed. 

    Levine's research demonstrates that the most advantaged kids in the country are running into unprecedented levels of mental illness and emotional distress.  She feels that raising children has come to look more like a business endeavor than an endeavor of the heart, the bottom line being college acceptance into an elite university.  There is too much concern with how children 'do' rather than who children 'are.'

    Children from affluent, well-educated families experience among the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints, and unhappiness of any group of children in this country.

    Levine illustrates her points with specific student examples.  Most are high-achieving children who appear to be doing all the right things (high gpa, SAT, activities, leadership), yet are at staggering risk of becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs, or becoming severely anxious and depressed.

    From Westchester, NY to Northbrook, IL, stories abound of affluent teens engaged in high-risk behaviors that include binge drinking, sexual promiscuity, violence and suicidal ideation or attempts.  Parents often point to high grades and popularity as evidence of emotional stability. However, several examples of out of control behavior (violence, theft, attempted suicide) demonstrated the lengths to which these students would go to get their parents to notice their suffering. 

    Levine points out that our parents are often simultaneously over-involved in the wrong things and under-involved in the right things.

    She then goes on to discuss parenting strategies for different ages, ways to emotionally support children to develop into healthy adults, and provides specific tips on how to connect with your teen. For younger children, her second book provides ideas for courageous parenting for every age and developmental stage.  Lastly, Levine provides advice on how to live and model an authentic adult life, as opposed to being completely over-involved in the lives of your child/ren.  

    She stresses that the important things in life are not grades, trophies or acceptance letters from elite institutions. She wants to help parents to raise children who have the internal drive, persistence and motivation to lead their own authentic lives, as opposed to raising exhausted, externally driven children who are constantly striving to achieve the next marker on an achievement list with no end.

    In a recent article, under the heading, “What's the Magic Formula for Raising a Happy, Successful Kid?” Madeline Levine wrote:

    “Your child's ‘self’ isn't in hiding, waiting for you to flush it out. It's constantly evolving, and your job is just to pay attention.

    “Every child has at least one ‘superpower.’  If that superpower is math, we're thrilled.  But parents will say, "All my daughter wants to do is talk to her friends about their problems.  What can I do?"  You don't do anything.  She might grow up to be a psychologist.  My son played softball with a kid who would always wander off the field to find plants, and now he's the head of botany at a major university.

    “It's hard to let your child grow when you've stopped growing.  Don't mold her into the adult you'd like her to be. Work on being that adult yourself.”

    Posted by Sheila Souder on 03/28/2016.