Teach Your Children Well is a brilliant book making a compelling case for NOT pushing kids down the traditional path of success: high grades, test prep, prestigious schools, enrichment activities and all the pressure that goes into being academically cutthroat. Through studies and anecdotes from her therapy practice, she demonstrates the emotional and interpersonal toll it takes on kids to follow that route: 1 in 5 kids have symptoms of a mental disorder. 1 in 10 have mental illness severe enough to result in significant growth impairment. What’s more, given how different tomorrow’s post-industrial, eworld of work will be, even after giving your kid a 10-20% chance of flipping out, there’s no guarantees.
Parents, Ms. Levine says, should focus on “authentic success.” Her definition; “…being the best me I can be…as part of a community and it always includes a component of meaningful contribution and connection with others.” Success is internal, a belief about one’s self not a number on a test or an acceptance to an Ivy League college. Focus on the effort: “Our bar should focus primarily on effort and improvement, not performance.”
The bulk of Ms. Levine’s book provides pragmatic advice on how to foster authentic success. In describing what to expect during the tween and teen years, the real substance of her book, she shifts the parent’s perspective so she is looking through her child’s eyes. Covering challenges most of us expect to face, she provides detailed ways to handle different scenarios, all resulting in a win-win for all family members. The remainder is a how-to for parents to help develop critical life skills in their children of all ages. Parents need to do work too: part of what sets her book apart from the masses is her emphasis on what ParentCity calls Deliberate Parenting. Parents need to analyze themselves, their upbringing, their attitudes and values and be aware how these influence what they say and do with their kids. Only then can the family thrive.
As a mother who believed these principles 10 years before this book codified them, I’d like to make this required reading for all new parents. The book is brilliant.
Unfortunately, to parents who aren’t already in the choir, the argument is undermined by what they’ll see as a Catch-22.
First, trying to say high pressure academic achievement does not necessarily lead to financial success is like saying a starvation diet won’t lead to weight loss. The damage might outweigh the benefit and the results may be temporary. But you will lose weight.
The majority of upper middle class and wealthy people did do well at Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, other top tier schools. They did score high on tests. Compare that to most of the poor in America. Next time ask the hotel housekeeper or car mechanic or anyone else struggling to make ends meet, and I’d bet 70% of them didn’t get the 90% percentile on the SATs or go to Princeton. It would be more credible if she admitted this upfront instead of denying it, and then went on to describe the costs of traditional success.
Next, Suppose people do buy into her argument, as I do. By failing to even mention the critical need to help build financial safety nets for these psychologically well-adjusted, professionally-fulfilled children she loses more credibility. Most of these kids are accustomed to lavish lifestyles. 5 star hotel vacations, top doctors, organic produce, reliable transportation, plenty of leisure time and the facilities to enjoy it. How are they suddenly going to adjust to living in a ground-floor rat infested apartment with 6 roommates? Seeing the only dentist in the entire city of New York who takes low-income insurance (but does not provide NO2)? Not being able to afford the last mintue ticket to fly home when dad is sick? That is assuming they don’t live near their family because how many vet technicians, travel bloggers, not for profit crusaders, dot com start up presidents, and Chaucer PhDs, can even afford market rent in most of their parent’s neighborhood?
Yes, I speak from experience.
Lenin said Trust, but verify. Ms. Levine’s brilliant book would have been more convincing if she had included a mention on letting your kids follow their heart while rolling out a big safety net beneath them.