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The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids [Hardcover]

Madeline Levine

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Book Description

July 2006

In recent years, numerous studies have shown that bright, charming, seemingly confident and socially skilled teenagers from affluent, loving families are experiencing epidemic rates of depression, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders—rates higher than in any other socioeconomic group of American adolescents. Materialism, pressure to achieve, perfectionism, and disconnection are combining to create a perfect storm that is devastating children of privilege and their parents alike.

In this eye-opening, provocative, and essential book, clinical psychologist Madeline Levine explodes one child-rearing myth after another. With empathy and candor, she identifies toxic cultural influences and well-intentioned, but misguided, parenting practices that are detrimental to a child's healthy self-development. Her thoughtful, practical advice provides solutions that will enable parents to help their emotionally troubled "star" child cultivate an authentic sense of self.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 246 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; First Edition edition (July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060595841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060595845
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 15.7 x 2.4 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 786,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


“Useful...clear, sensitive...” (Publisher's Weekly)

“In this insightful book, Levine eschews the temptation to dismiss problems of privileged teens as overindulgence.” (Book List)

“[Written] with clarity and understanding of the culture of affluence and its pitfalls for parents.” (Library Journal)

“Fresh and important ideas about parenting in the age of affluence…” (Mary Pipher, Ph.D., author of Reviving Ophelia)

“Levine offers chapter after chapter of practical advice for dealing with family problems.” (Connecticut Post Online)

“[Madeline Levine’s] ideas may be uncomfortable for parents to read, but they’re a wonderful wake-up call.” (Bay Area Insider)

“Levine’s book explores some troubling and intriguing issues that certainly are worth pondering and discussing.” (Marin Independent Journal)

“She treats her subjects as well as her subject with compassion and understanding.” (Chicago Tribune)

“...[an] impassioned wake-up call to parents...” (The Gazette (Montreal))

“This book has resonated in affluent communities all over the country. [Levine is] clearly on to something.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“Her writing is warm and carefully thoughtful.” (Toronto Star) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Madeline Levine, PhD, is a clinician, consultant, and educator; the author of the New York Times bestseller The Price of Privilege; and a cofounder of Challenge Success, a project of the Stanford School of Education that addresses education reform, student well-being,and parent education. She lives outside San Francisco with her husband and is the proud mother of three newly minted adult sons.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  93 reviews
105 of 107 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Price is psychologically devastatingly high. Read the book to protect your family from psychological dysfunction 19 Oct 2006
By Gaetan Lion - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book about how the affluent have adopted undermining values (perfectionism, materialism) and how it negatively affects parenting style and causes psychological neurosis among teens. I am the parent of a teenage daughter who goes to a public high school in Marin County. Thus, we live in the social milieu described by Dr. Levine. The book content was both shocking and revealing to me. When I shared some of Dr. Levine's findings that I could not believe I would ask my daughter about them. Invariably, she confirmed that Dr. Levine was correct. That's how I found out that one of my daughter's acquaintances did cut herself frequently. That's also when I knew that Dr. Levine was onto something and not just sensationalizing another marketable myth about Marin County. Also, this book really is not about Marin County as it depicts a nationwide prevalent phenomenon of teenage psychological dysfunction among the affluent.

The book's main thesis is that teenagers from affluent families suffer more intense psychological problems than anyone thought. Her findings reflects her 25 years of experience as a psychologist working with children in Marin County and her reviewing related clinical studies on the subject. Dr. Levine has extensively referenced the material of the book. Thus, her thesis and arguments are well supported by contemporary psychological research.

The book includes four parts. The first part diagnoses the psychological problems affecting teenagers from affluent families. The second part reviews how our material culture contributes to undermining the development of the inner self. The third part provides recommendation on how to parent to overcome cultural hurdles and develop healthy children. The fourth part reflects on how you have to develop your own strength and independence before you can impart those qualities to your kids. The first three sections overlap a lot as diagnostics of affluent teenagers problems, criticism of our materialistic society, and advice on parenting are peppered throughout the book regardless of the section. Somehow, the liquidity in categorization of the topic does not detract in the book's readability.

Dr. Levine mentions two key factors leading to dysfunctional teen among the affluent: The first is achievement pressure. The second is emotional isolation from parents. She observed that parents are over involved as far as grades and performance are involved but they are often too busy for down to earth conversation with their teens that would help their inner self growth.

The parents' focus on performance leads to the kids' perfectionism that leads to serious problems. Dr. Levine observed that studies uncovered a strong relationship between perfectionism and suicide among teens that are gifted. It is not the parents' high expectations that are the culprit, but when parental love becomes conditional to the child's achievement.

Within the third chapter of this section, Dr. Levine studies the counterintuitive disconnect between money and happiness. Once basic needs are met, apparently surplus money does not make people happier. Dr. Levine has reviewed cross lateral and longitudinal scientific studies that confirm that. For example, the Irish apparently are happier than the Germans and the Japanese. Yet, the Irish GDP per capita is about less than half the Germans or Japanese. Americans are not happier today than they were a generation ago even though their GDP per capita (adjusted for inflation) has nearly doubled.

In the third part of the book, Dr. Levine analyzes parenting by referring to the seminal research of Dr. Baumrind who established the foundation of psychological studies on parenting. Dr. Baumrind differentiates between three parenting style: 1) authoritarian, 2) permissive, and 3) authoritative.

The Authoritarian parent adopts a military style. They think of the child strictly as a subordinate. The parents order, the child obeys. And, that's it. This typically leads to terrible problems during the teen years. Either the teen violently explode out of rebellion or he breaks down. Such teens have often low self esteem, poor social skills, and a high rate of depression. Such child often lacks curiosity and creativity and is unable to explore and develop his inner self.

The Permissive parent is very loving and caring but short on discipline. They think of the child as a friend. The resulting teen is often likable and has high self-esteem. But, they tend to be impulsive, immature, and lack awareness of the responsibility of their own action. They also have lower rates of academic achievement and higher rates of substance abuse.

The Authoritative parent is warm and accepting, but they set clear expectations and limits. They place a high value on cooperation, responsibility, and self-regulation. They value achievement and self-motivation but do not emphasize competition. Authoritative parents promote autonomy by encouraging children to figure it out on their own whenever they can. Such parents support the child's growing autonomy by focusing both on independence and connection. As expected, such household foster better overall child development with lower rate of depression and substance abuse than either of the other two parenting styles. Autonomy, not dependency, is always the goal of such parenting style.

If you have a daughter, I also strongly recommend Louann Brizendine "The Female Brain." She dedicates an excellent chapter to the "Teen Brain." This book informs that female teen behaviors are not only a function of the social milieu but are strongly influenced by an abrupt change in hormonal levels. We all know that. But, Brizendine really educates one in detail about the process and how to deal with it. Some of us need all the help we can get, right!?
134 of 139 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where was this book when I needed it 5 or 10 years ago? 16 July 2006
By Paul Allaer - Published on Amazon.com
I picked this book up almost by accident. But boy, am I glad I did. In "The Price of Privilege" (246 pages), author Madeline Levine, an accomplished psychologist who excels in dealing with troubled teenagers, examines the dangers and effects of teenagers growing up in an affluent environment. ("Affluent" is defined as a household earning $120,000 and more.)

I have to say that I was blown away by the observations in this book, even if, thankfully, I certainly have not experienced the worst-case scenarios described in this book with my own kids, who are now 19 and 16. Among many other things, Levine explains how "rewarding" kids by promising material things ("if you get an "A" on your test, I will buy you X or Y") has a long-term negative effect on kids. Levine also goes into depth about internal vs. external motivation, and why praise is often "bad" warmth for kids. As to "chasing perfection", Levine observes that "the pursuit of perfection is a diversion from the messiness of real life". So true! The main proposition made by the author is that, while of course it is important that we put our kids in a position to get good grades, even more important is that we help our kids with building their inner "self", which will prepare them for the long term. Reason why overinvolvement in our kids' lives is actually counterproductive.

I cannot emphasize enough what a wonderful job Levine does in describing the dangers of putting too much pressure on our kids. Which does not mean that she endorses a "slacker" attitude either. This book is about how we can best prepare our affluent kids for the long term. And it's not like the author is making a hypothetical or theoretical or academic case, giving ample real life evidence from her own practice and from studies around the country. I certainly recognized mistakes I have made, which I now wish I could've avoided, making me wonder wishfully, where was this book when I really needed it 5 or 10 years ago...
61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for rich kids 3 July 2006
By ken ross - Published on Amazon.com
Am writing this review for my wife who won't take the time to put this book down since picking it up yesterday. She's shown me enough bits and pieces that I'll do the writing.

When I first saw the title, I sighed. Another book on poor, spoiled rich kids.

We don't think of ourselves as "affluent" but our children certainly are privileged and Dr. Levine gets right to the point. The issue isn't money, but what we do and what we neglect to do for our kids. More time, the wonderful phrase "inviting, listening presence" and less time sticking our noses into every bit of our kids lives. I particualry liked the clear suggestions about how to handle the inevitable problems of adolesence and the difficulties of being parent whether one has a few extra bucks or is just making ends meet.

A good book not only for the "affluent" but for anyone who has paid enough attention to know that all is not right with our culture, values and parenting skills.

Highly recommended.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Targeted for mothers, useful for fathers too 12 Jun 2006
By Bill Crawford - Published on Amazon.com
This is one of the the few parenting books I've actually read cover to cover. As the father of three young children, I find that most authors are in love with their words and give too many examples, when I have too little time to read. Dr. Levine's slim volume doesn't skimp on the facts or on the suggestions, but never dallies. Certainly, she knows, that for the most part, her audience is busy and often overwhelmed.

I found this book useful for two reasons in particular. First, Dr. Levine does an outstanding job of presenting the facts. While everyone seems to have an opinion about what's wrong with the current generation _- too spoiled, too lazy, too indulged- Dr. Levine sticks to what we actually do know about the adjustment of affluent kids, and that is that they are often unhappy. And that their unhappiness stems from having too much of the wrong things (pressure and material goods) and too little of the things that kids really need (acceptance, limits, challenge). I suspect that to many of us this is not entirely a surprise

Which brings me to the second thing I really liked about this book. In spite of bringing foward a host of rather disturbing realities, The Price of Privilege never feels depressing or makes you feel like you really screwed up. On the contrary, Dr. Levine's generous sharing of family incidents, as well as her empathy and humor, keep us feeling that with just a few adjustments we can do a much better job.

Truthfully, I believe her.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From a grateful mom 4 July 2006
By Amy Kramer - Published on Amazon.com
While most of the reviews have focused on Dr. Levine's acumen in dealing with teens, I have to say that this book was most helpful to me because of the way it deals with the problems of moms. I have two daughters, one troubled, one not. I've always been made to feel that my troubled daughter is somehow the result of awful parenting decisions I've made. Dr. Levine has helped me sort out the mistakes I've made, both with my daughter and myself, while maintaing perspective about the fact that not all things are in my control. Her warmth comes through on every page (not incidentally, she considers warmth "the silver bullet" of healthy relationships). But also her ability to stand in the shoes of often beleagured moms, without being critical or condescending, makes it easy to take her advice.

Makes me wish she wish she lived down the street. Great and useful and ultimately optimistic book.
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