On "The Price of Privilege"

June 28, 2006

Not sure if this is simply one of those overblown, but sexy, parenting trend stories, but it caught my eye. Despite the perception that they “have it all,” affluent teenagers are increasingly making up a significant portion of psychiatric cases across the nation, a Bay Area psychologist wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine last Sunday.

In giving these teens unprecedented attention and material goods — expecting them to be “perfect” — parents’ “overinvolvement” and “intrusion” is contributing to psychological problems like eating disorders, drug and alcohol dependency, and promiscuity,” said Dr. Madeline Levine, author of the new book “The Price of Privilege.” What’s even scarier is on the surface these kids appear to have it good, actually coming from comfortable homes, getting good grades and performing like star athletes. But in private they are “boring” and “empty,” falling victim to destructive behavior like cutting up their arm or engaging in oral sex behind the gymnasium bleachers.

Both intrusion and overinvolvement prevent the development of the kinds of skills that children need to be successful: the ability to be a self-starter, the willingness to engage in trial-and-error learning, the ability to delay gratification, to tolerate frustration, to show self control, to learn from mistakes and to be a flexible and creative thinker. Kids who develop these skills have a large toolbox to dig into, both to enrich their lives and to help them problem-solve.

Again, it looks like Levine’s evidence is anecdotal. I also wonder if affluent people, in general, are more likely to even have money to take their kids to a psychiatrist, thus they are overrepresented in consultancies?

But the piece gave me pause. I am one of those moms who is hyper about cleanliness — having given Ari a bath every day since his umbilical cord stump fell off — and doing everything for him by the book, including activities, even when he protests. This is so contrary to my own upbringing where my father worked nonstop at a mill and my mom had to spread her attention across four children — which left me with a lot of downtime. It allowed me to “pretend” play, make up games with friends and read on my own. Some of this does — at least around these parts — seem to have waned now with gymboree, a zillion child-developmental activities and people having fewer kids.

Are high expectations and booked schedules harming our kids? What do you think fellow Mters?