Joel's Reviews > The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids

The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine
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's review
Aug 16, 08

Recommended for: teachers, parents (especially upper-middle class parents)
Read in August, 2008

I was assigned this book as homework over the summer by my head of school. I know what you're thinking: (Sarcastically) Oh yeah, rich kids have it so tough. And of course in many ways--more than they realize--they don't. The availability and ease of physical objects--from cars and iPods to drugs and alcohol--sets them apart in many ways from most of the world.

And yet, I can attest from experience over the last few years here that money does not buy happiness--nor does it buy ability, excellence, or self-worth. In fact, there are a whole series of issues that come with raising young people in this conext. Levine takes a hard look at the growing trends among affluent adolescents--from materialism to overindulgent parents to short-sightedness to a lack of basic self-reliance skills (it's easy not to develop problem-solving skills when Mom always calls to get you out of trouble or make things easier on you)--and on what causes those things.

Not surprisingly, she comes down on the parents. And rightly so. In my job as a high school teacher in an affluent community I deal with overinvolved parents on a weekly basis. Parents who cannot understand how a child received a B+ (let alone a C or an F) on an assignment that they "worked so hard on." Parents who go to McDonald's every day at lunch to bring their child a hot Big Mac and Fries. Parents who lie to cover up their children's mistakes. Parents who condone their children's drinking or other illegal activities. It's shocking at times. But these parents--who give so much their children don't learn how to do for themselves--are raising children who not only lack basic life skills but also are selfish and materialistic to the extreme. I deal with that on a daily basis, in ways that my students don't even realize. I have seen so few examples of intellectual curiosity, of genuine interest in knowledge and the outside world, that it shocks me at times. And I don't just mean in English--I'm not so foolish to expect that everyone will love what I love. But there are few students who love anything thought-provoking. They just want to know how to get an A. And at times, they'll cheat to get it. The value set taught to my students is so different than the value-set I was instilled with as a teenager. But then again, I had awesome parents.

II don't want it to sound like I teach little zombies. On the contrary, I see so much potential to do so much! But I also see students used to having life (and their education) served to them with little to no effort. As a result, in the teacher's lounge we frequently say "Someday these kids are going to meet the real world and they're going to be unprepared." And in large part it's not their fault. They have been coddled and pampered for far too long. But deep down I think some of them recognize that something isn't right. They know their parents won't be happy unless they have A's and State Championship trophies. They look to external validation rather than internal motivation. In so many ways they make me sad. They miss out on human connections by substituting material connections.

Levine's book isn't groundbreaking, but it is important reading, both for would-be parents and for those involved in affluent communities. It makes me want to provide all those things for my students that they are not getting at home: boundaries, warmth, a sincere connection, affirmation, but also expectations--not of outcome, but of effort and application. I can help with that, and I hope that I have offered something to those I teach, but I also know that for the most part I cannot be a substitute for mom and dad. But at the very least I can be a good role model.

By the way, lest I make it sound like Levine just slams parents, she's very open to the challenges they themselves face--especially mothers, who are often wrapped in communities where they are expected to put forth a perfect face even while experiencing intense unhappiness. The author stresses the importance of healthy and well-adjusted parents in order to produce healthy and well-adjusted children.

All in all, a worthwhile book for those interested in adolescent psychology and development. As always, click the pic to buy from Amazon.

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Amelia Great review! Thanks for the insider's expertise and eloquent perspective.

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