When her first book, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids (HarperCollins, 2006) came out, psychologist Madeline Levine was called a Cassandra, a prophetess of doom and gloom.
Six years later, Levine has touched a national nerve with her new book on teenage anxiety, which delves into markers now observed everywhere – depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, self-cutting and suicide. What to do about these dilemmas is the subject of Levine’s Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success (HarperCollins, 2012). As she says, parents’ focus today should be on raising “robust kids” who will grow up to find meaningful work and loving relationships.
Levine answers our questions here:
Q: You believe that parental anxiety about giving our children a leg up on everything seems to be contagious. How?
A: The Atlantic had a story a couple months ago about data-driven parenting. There’s a phone app you can download for your baby’s “IO.” Input output. Everything your child drinks, every drop he pees, every time she moves. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. It just takes you away from what you really should be doing with your baby – letting it sleep when it needs to sleep, gazing at it, holding it. Instead, you’re focusing on its IO.
Q: What do you think about this age of helicopter parents?
A: If your child falls down, you don’t have to rush over and ask if she’s okay. If she leaves her homework on the kitchen table, you don’t need to bring it up to school for her. These are natural consequences. They are not matters of life or death; they are opportunities for kids to learn.
Q: What’s changed in the six years between your two books?
A: There’s a lot of debate about stressed-out kids. There is a much greater awareness now that too many kids are not thriving. All you have to do is look at the research: one in four kids has depression; one in four kids has anxiety. Twenty-five percent of kids in national universities are substance abusers. And a new study at Yale and Cornellshows that 17 percent of students are self-mutilating.
Q: You say that kids resemble trauma victims. Please explain.
A: What does post-traumatic stress syndrome look like? You’re preoccupied; you’re anxious; you go over events over and over in your head. That’s what a lot of kids look like. They don’t sleep well. They’re worried. The rate of depression has already doubled … . Yes, on the up side, kids have better communication with their families. They have more opportunities. But overall, they’re being robbed of their childhood.
Q: What’s the most important message for parents to come away with?
A: A lot of parents are acting like home designers – making sure everything looks good on the surface, like curtains and countertops. Instead, they should be more like construction workers, thinking about the foundation.