The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine

Rating: 6/10

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High-Level Thoughts

The first 1/3 is a great primer on the problems of popular parents styles and how that leads to depression, angst, and the excellent sheep problems. The rest is how to parent better, which I (obviously) did not find quite as useful (but if you’re a parent, read it!!!)

Summary Notes

Basically, kids are being emotionally destroyed by a hyper competitive education system, leading to systemic depression, angst, anger, drug abuse, and even suicide among adolescents. This leads to a host of problems later in life, and it’s up to parents and educators to prevent it from happening.

“A superficial reading of this type of teenager might suggest that they are simply spoiled or overindulged. It is tempting to trivialize the problems of kids who have been the recipients of exhaustive parental intervention and have been liberally handed both material and educational opportunities. Yet the depletion I felt that Friday afternoon came not from treating spoiled or indulged kids, but from treating troubled ones.”

“A talented thirteen-year-old seriously considers hacking his way into the school computer system to raise his math grade. An academically outstanding sixteen-year-old thinks about suicide when her SAT scores come back marginally lower than she had expected. A fourteen-year-old boy cut from his high school junior varsity basketball team is afraid to go home, anticipating his father’s disappointment and criticism.”

“The kids I see have been given all kinds of material advantages, yet feel that they have nothing genuine to anchor their lives to. They lack spontaneity, creativity, enthusiasm, and, most disturbingly, the capacity for pleasure.”

“As a result, kids can’t find the time, both literal and psychological, to linger in internal exploration; a necessary precursor to a well-developed sense of self. Fantasies, daydreaming, thinking about oneself and one’s future, even just “chilling” are critical processes in self-development and cannot be hurried.”

“Psychological development goes awry when children are pressured into valuing the views of others over their own. A young girl works madly to maintain her high GPA because “my mom would have a breakdown if my grades dropped.” This girl might be an enthusiastic student under other circumstances, but her need to keep her mother’s anxiety at bay is bound to interfere with her capacity to work independently and with pleasure. Ultimately, motivation for any venture needs to feel like it comes from inside.”

“Authenticity is not aided when kids have to battle against parents who are implanting other, often unrealistic “selves”— stellar student, outstanding athlete, perfect kid— into their teenager’s already crowded psychological landscape.”

“Intrusion and support are two fundamentally different processes: support is about the needs of the child, intrusion is about the needs of the parent.”

“We need to examine our parenting paradigm. Raising children has come to look more and more like a business endeavor and less and less like an endeavor of the heart. We are overly concerned with “the bottom line,” with how our children “do” rather than with who our children “are.” We pour time, attention, and money into insuring their performance, consistently making it to their soccer game while inconsistently making it to the dinner table.”

“America’s newly identified at-risk group is preteens and teens from affluent, well-educated families. In spite of their economic and social advantages, they experience among the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints, and unhappiness of any group of children in this country.”

“Studies of public school students have shown that as many as 22 percent of adolescent girls from financially comfortable families suffer from clinical depression. This is three times the national rate of depression for adolescent girls. By the end of high school, as many as one-third of girls from these families can exhibit clinically significant symptoms of anxiety.”

“She is set on Wharton, Sloan, or Haas, the three top-ranked undergraduate business schools in the country. I point out that these schools are extremely difficult to get into, and that Catherine has never mentioned whether the schools themselves or the towns they’re located in are appealing to her. Catherine dismisses my concern. “I want to get a good job when I graduate. One of those schools will be my ticket,” she insists.”

“Regardless of whether research has focused on younger kids, older kids, or has followed youngsters throughout their adolescence, two factors repeatedly emerge as contributing to their high levels of emotional problems. The first is achievement pressure and the second is isolation from parents. 31 While achievement pressure and isolation from adults appear to be mutually exclusive (somebody has to be putting the pressure on), they are not. In fact, achievement pressure often comes from parents who are overinvolved in how well their children perform and inadequately involved in monitoring these same children in other areas. We can be overinvolved in the wrong things, and underinvolved in the right things, both at the same time.”

“Research shows that parents’ emphasis on achievement is linked to their children’s maladaptive perfectionist strivings. Maladaptive perfectionism (that is, perfectionism that impairs functioning— the child who can’t sleep, who throws up, or who feigns illness because he is anxious about a test) is highly correlated with depression and suicide.”

“Adolescent suicide is often precipitated by a perceived failure— at school, with parents, or in a relationship. Adolescents are idealistic and highly self-critical; additional parental pressures to meet harsh performance demands, while perhaps temporarily successful in driving academic achievement, are ultimately destructive. This does not mean that high expectations for children are potentially lethal. On the contrary, high expectations are found to promote achievement and competency in children. It is when a parent’s love is experienced as conditional on achievement that children are at risk for serious emotional problems. These are children who are driven to be “perfect” in the hope of garnering parental love and acceptance. Their inevitable missteps activate intense feelings of shame and hopelessness.”

“Parents can be overinvolved and children can still feel isolated. Controlling and overinvolved parents typically leave kids feeling angry or alienated, neither of which is conducive to emotional closeness. And it is emotional closeness, maternal warmth in particular, that is as close as we get to a silver bullet against psychological impairment.”

““These parents certainly want the best for their children. But they want it in a mechanistic way. They want buttons pushed, and pushed quickly, so that their kids get better with little effort. But helping troubled kids takes a long time and what these kids really need are their parents themselves.””

“Kids who don’t feel close to their parents are unlikely to confide in them, and affluent parents have to be alert to the fact that, as a group, we underestimate the impact of our absences and overestimate the degree of closeness our children feel toward us.”

“For example, parents need to remember that kids love rituals and depend on them for a sense of continuity and connection. Perhaps the single most important ritual a family can observe is having dinner together. Families who eat together five or more times a week have kids who are significantly less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana, have higher grade-point averages, less depressive symptoms, and fewer suicide attempts than families who eat together two or fewer times a week.”

“What’s so wrong with putting pressure on kids to achieve? After all, failed educational experiments like Summerhill, the flagship of “do your own thing” education in the 1960s, suggest that, left to their own devices, kids are not necessarily disciplined or even creative learners.”

“Well-developed autonomy allows kids to reliably and confidently see the world through their own eyes without fear of disappointing their parents.”

Effects of Materialism:

  • “Materialism is not the same as having money. As we’ve seen, once basic needs are met, there is no relationship between money and happiness. Materialism, on the other hand, does predict a lack of happiness and satisfaction. 13 Materialism is a value system that emphasizes wealth, status, image, and material consumption. It is a measure of how much we value material things over other things in our lives, like friends, family, and work. It keeps us wedded to external measures of accomplishment for a sense of self— prestige, power, money for adults; grades, clothes, electronics for kids.”
  • “Beginning in the 1990s, a majority of students say that “making a lot of money” has become the most important reason to go to college, outranking both the reasons above, as well as “becoming an authority in my field,” or “helping others in difficulty.” This shift in values among college students takes place at the same time that rates of depression, suicide, and other psychological problems have risen dramatically among this group.”
  • “Research clearly shows that our own levels of materialism pro-foundly affect our children’s levels of materialism. When parents— mothers in particular— value financial success more than affiliation, community, or self-acceptance, they are likely to have children who share these values.”
  • “Materialistic kids have lower grades and higher rates of both depression and substance abuse than nonmaterialistic kids.”
  • “Because advertising is designed to first make us feel insecure and then solve our insecurity by offering products, it is particularly problematic for adolescents, who already feel terribly insecure. Adolescent girls in particular are vulnerable to the siren song of materialism and consumerism because they are more likely to be in the marketplace than boys.”
  • “Parents need to reinforce with their children the reality that it is not external things that help them to handle difficult feelings; rather, it is the development of internal resources that provide a safety net when they are struggling.”
  • “Because money and material objects are plentiful in comfortable families, they often become the default motivator when parents want to change their child’s behavior. This is a disastrous approach on two counts. First, it models materialism to the child. Second, it can be very seductive to teens who are still shoring up their judgment and impulse control.”

Kids finding meaning in work:

  • “Internal motivation is the generator that propels children to figure out their particular interests, abilities, and passions. Internal motivation is not tied to rewards; it is what drives kids to engage in activities that are satisfying for their own sake. It is the basis of all true learning.”
  • “When external measures of success are all that kids can think about, their ability to find meaning in their work is diminished. Being passionate about grades is not the same as being passionate about Faulkner, calculus, or the periodic table of the elements.”
  • “Parents need to reassure their children that they will not “die poor and lonely” if they don’t get into honors math, or become school valedictorian, or go to Harvard.”

Autonomy:

  • “Kids need to be encouraged to “think for themselves,” to incorporate the point of view of parents and teachers and peers, and then be able to formulate their own point of view.”
  • “Self-efficacy is the belief that we can successfully impact our world. Unlike self-esteem, which is concerned with judgments of self-worth, self-efficacy is concerned with judgments of personal capability.”
  • “The child who feels helpless to change anything about his situation is liable to feel apathetic or even depressed. Clearly, the child who speaks to the teacher has a better chance of having his grade reconsidered. But even if his grade remains the same, he is more likely to feel that he “gave it a shot.””
  • “Anxiety and its frequent companions, overinvolvement and intrusion, combine to make a particularly lethal combination. This parenting style makes children hesitant to actively approach a world that the parent portrays as dangerous, and, as a consequence, it limits children’s natural eagerness to try out new and challenging experiences.”
  • “Parents help their children develop self-management skills by setting limits, modeling self-control, and being clear about the value of tolerating frustration, delaying gratification, and controlling impulses. The ability to self-manage effectively is a great predictor of both psychological adjustment and academic achievement.”
  • “By allowing them to get occasionally bruised in childhood we are helping to make certain that they don’t get broken in adolescence. And by allowing them their failures in adolescence, we are helping to lay the groundwork for success in adulthood.”

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