by Genevieve Anderson
Madeline Levine’s second book “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success” will warm most parents’ hearts. Her first, bestselling book “The Price of Privilege” was a compelling if slightly disheartening read — in it she describes the psychological and emotional fallout of excessive emphasis on scholastic performance and intrusive parenting common among affluent families. In her sequel, she offers some solutions and real advice on how to achieve them.
The thesis of “Teach Your Children Well” is that private schools and parents overvalue grades, test scores, athletic excellence and other obvious trophies of high achievement; meanwhile they undervalue creative and social skills, and overlook the importance of principles, integrity, empathy and resilience in a young person’s life. The result is that our kids are being groomed to feel only as worthy as their last performance, and to feel little engagement with that performance. Some parents measure success – their children’s as well as their own – more by the prestige of the college their kids get into than by the depth of their interests or their ability to cope with challenges. Levine urges us to re-examine our notion of success and to adjust our parenting so that our kids are more engaged, enthusiastic, confident and happy. Teaching our children a set of coping skills, rather than setting a high performance bar, will support their development into fulfilled, committed, honest adults.
This is the first parenting book I’ve ever completed – every page from beginning to end. Levine, as she herself avows in the book, is an excellent writer: thoughtful yet concise and clear. Like most parenting books she offers several anecdotes, from her family life and clinical practice; the big difference however, is her proactive approach. With every story, she also provides the “dos” and “don’ts” of parenting for that particular situation. She offers useful tips on how to respond and when, as well as new perspectives on a parenting issue that may have once baffled you.
For example, she has a compelling chapter about how high school kids learn to construct their identity and manage sexuality. In it she talks about the ages at which this happens, the different ways in which these developments might occur, how parents should respond to them and how they can help. As part of the dos and don’ts she discusses monitoring a teen’s whereabouts and activities, holding healthy conversations, paying attention to her/his friends, and showing respect for some innocuous forms of privacy. She suggests considering your teen’s closed bedroom a “living laboratory” where the transformative process of changing from child to adult is going on, rather than a protest against the family. And did you know that the best way to handle your teen’s bumpy search for identity through a variety of hair colors, piercings or political affiliations is to “back off a bit”, suspend comment and provide a “holding environment” of acceptance, love and protection? To put a cherry on the cake of all this practical advice, Levine offers a roadmap for the seven essential coping skills needed for authentic success in life and how to help your children develop them.
While the book tackles a bit about the elementary and middle school years, it is clearly a book about teens, and being a good parent to them. After all, the psychological malaise that Levine is preoccupied with strikes during the teen years – which is why it’s no surprise all her clients are teenagers. Why then does she omit the problems of defiance and rebelliousness in teens, a dominant trait in this phase of life? None of her anecdotes describes situations of conflict between parents and teens, and all her advice presupposes that your child will be as cooperative and malleable as hers were. While her many “dos” and “don’ts” and “how a parent can help” were insightful, including an extra paragraph on strategies for implementing these tips with a rebellious child would have been brilliant. If you can get past the feeling that you may have missed your opportunities to raise children as adorable, adjusted and dedicated as Levine’s three sons, this is a book for you.