October, 17 2017
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'Price of Privilege' Too High for Teens
Madeline Levine, Ph.D., has worked with troubled teens and families for 25 years. Nothing in her experience, however, prepared her for the crush of emotionally fragile, impaired young patients she now sees in record numbers. That her patients are from seemingly stable homes, well cared for and well-educated, further compounds her dismay. Something is drastically wrong within the affluent American society, she believes.
“The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids” (Harper Collins, 2006) is her response to this crisis.
About Dr Levine's Book
The book’s title is her thesis statement. Kids from upper middle-class families, where parents stress that a good education translates into the power to buy whatever the heart desires, are finding it difficult to buy into the dream. And parental over-involvement in their lives from the earliest ages -- the so-called “helicopter” parents, always hovering over their kids -- has rendered teens incapable of framing their own dreams.
One Such Troubled Teen
One “bright, personable” 15-year-old girl defined herself as “empty” -- the word she carved into her forearm with a razor. Ms. Levine opens her book with this scene. Having met with this young woman, she writes, “ ... I slumped into my well-worn chair feeling depleted and surprisingly close to tears.”
How This Affects Teens in Our Communities
Her community -- Marin County, California -- is populated by upper middle-class suburbanites who are “concerned, educated, and involved parents who have exceedingly high expectations for their children.”
Yet, she says, “In spite of parental concern and economic advantage, many of my adolescent patients suffer from readily apparent emotional disorders: addictions, anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and assorted self-destructive behaviors.”
Some are even more difficult to diagnose. These teens are “perplexingly and persistently unhappy.” Though they are “highly proficient in some areas of their lives” (the straight-A student, the homecoming queen, the basketball team captain), these kids have “significant impairments,” such as being too socially awkward to attend a dance, or feeling like a “fat ugly duckling,” or being abusive toward a parent.
Who this Book is For
For those who know and love teens, the book does provoke strong reactions. Ms. Levine’s anecdotal evidence from her practice is disturbing. The data she offers from research studies around the county -- most of it focused on the current reality -- are even more unsettling. This is not about “those California kids,” but our kids.
Pt 1 What is an At-Risk Youth
The book is framed in three parts. In Part One -- “America’s ‘At Risk’ Child” -- Ms. Levine, like a good researcher, defines the terms and sets the context.
There is a “paradox of privilege” that is stunting children’s healthy emotional growth. In what she calls “a toxic brew of pressure and isolation,” parents both demand achievement -- in academics, athletics, extracurricular activities -- and yet remain isolated from day-to-day interactions with their offspring -- dinnertime, social gatherings, just being home when the kids are.
From a psychologist’s understanding, Ms. Levine breaks down why “Money Does Not Buy Mental Health.” The research on studies concerning how money correlates to personal happiness (it doesn’t) may be surprising and is certainly fascinating.
Pt 2 What Makes a Healthy Teen
In Part Two -- “How the Culture of Affluence Works Against the Development of the Self” -- the knowledgeable doctor connects what is understood from a century of psychological study as well as current brain research to how adolescents develop a “healthy self.”
Ms. Levine also pointedly explains the needed parenting strategies at each stage of development (ages 2-4 through 15-17) that work to support the development of healthy, autonomous human beings.
Pt 3 Parenting Styles
Part Three extends the lessons on “Parenting for Autonomy.” Styles of parenting are explained -- always with illustrative examples from her practice. Parents who are willing to do the hard work of reflective thinking can determine for themselves how they are parenting.
There is a clear distinction from being an “authoritarian” parent and an “authoritative” parent. In the former, “warmth” translates into intrusion and parental neediness -- living life through your child. In the other, “warmth” is manifested with understanding and acceptance -- your child is not a mini-you.
Chapter Seven offers practical advice to all parents on the issue of “Discipline and Control: The Tough Job of Being the ‘Bad Cop.’”
As the parent of three sons, Ms. Levine cites her own parenting battles as examples of what not to do. As a mother of three children, now grown, I cringed as Ms. Levine’s words hit home. Fortunately, kids -- hers, mine and most -- are resilient and willing to forgive our lapses as we struggle to be good parents and persist in our efforts to cultivate a warm and loving relationship with our children.
In the last section of the book, Ms. Levine continues her counseling as she attempts to change the negative culture that has enveloped teens: “Why You Have to Stand on Your Own Two Feet Before Your Children Can Stand on Theirs.”
She is deeply compassionate about the stresses parents today face. Economic uncertainty, media influences that countermand parental roles, the “poison of perfectionism” that drives adults and kids to live up to some pre-ordained ideal that has no connection to reality.
To Mothers of Troubled Teens
The final chapter is addressed specifically to mothers. No one knows the harsh realities of “doing it all” more than Madeline Levine, who is wife, mother, daughter, doctor and who, in each role, is swamped with “must do now” responsibilities. She is careful to urge mothers to make sure that their own psychological needs are being met.
Her thoughtful, practical advice in Chapter Nine -- as throughout the book -- offers great hope to mothers, parents, and kids who are struggling with the price of privilege.
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