Book Review: The Price of Privilege
A friend of mine recommended this really interesting book to me—The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, by Madeline Levine. This book looks at teenagers these days who are "missing something inside" and "feeling unhappy for no reason".
Today's teen feels too pressured, misunderstood, anxious, angry, sad, and empty. The author finds that these teens really don't know themselves, lack practical skills for navigating out in the world, are easily frustrated, and have trouble anticipating the consequences of their actions. They are overly dependent on the opinions of their parents, teachers, coaches, and peers. They rely on others for routine tasks, aren't creative or interesting, are bored, and are boring. They are unhappy, disconnected, and passive. Why??
The author believes that their parents have protected them too much from challenges and disappointments. The parents are worried and over-involved. They don't discipline their children. They have extremely high demands for academic and extracurricular activities, but low demands for family chores and responsibilities.
A child who is indulged, coddled, pressured, and micromanaged is deprived of the opportunity to develop inside. Parents who intervene—instead of support their child's own problem-solving—interfere with the child's development of a sense of self. Kids need to be allowed to make their own decisions and learn from their own mistakes. They need to "own" their lives, feel like they have control over what happens in it, and feel confident that they can handle it themselves.
Kids who are overscheduled with accelerated academic work, multiple extracurricular activities, premature college prep courses, and special tutors and coaches can't find the time for internal exploration. Kids need to fantasize, daydream, and spend time thinking about themselves and their future. Those with a "false self" lack a fundamental sense of who they are, which can lead to depression. If kids are working hard to please others and gain parental approval, that takes time away from figuring out what their own authentic talents, skills, and interests are.
An important distinction is that support is about meeting the needs of the child, while intrusion is about meeting the needs of the parent. It's notable that at-risk preteens and teens from affluent, well-educated families have some of the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic disorders, and unhappiness.
What can be done? Parents need to avoid pressuring their kids to achieve. They must avoid conditional love. They need to give consistent love, support, and acceptance. They need to get emotionally close to their kids, be present, and slow down. Controlling parents leave behind angry and alienated kids.
Stop shuffling the kids from one activity to the next. Make time for family dinners and family rituals, using that time to connect. Don't promote materialism. Don't use shopping as therapy. Self-worth should not be based on having fancy clothes or the latest electronic gadget.
Kids need to deal with their problems by using thought, insight, and empathy. Show your kids how you enjoy being productive, in your work, in volunteering, and in community projects. Don't offer external rewards. Kids need to develop internal motivation to propel their interests, abilities, and passions for their own sake. Value their effort, curiosity, and intellectual courage—not just their grades!
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