Price of Privilege, The

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Madeline Levine has been a practicing psychologist for twenty-five years, but it was only recently that she began to observe a new breed of unhappy teenager. When a bright, personable fifteen-year-old girl from a loving and financially comfortable family came into her office with the word "empty" carved into her left forearm, Levine was startled. This girl and her message seemed to embody a disturbing pattern Levine had been observing. Her teenage patients were bright, socially skilled, and loved by their affluent parents. But behind a veneer of achievement and charm, many of these teens suffered severe emotional problems. What was going on? Conversations with educators and clinicians across the country as well as meticulous research confirmed Levine's suspicions that something was terribly amiss. Numerous studies show that privileged adolescents are experiencing epidemic rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse -- rates that are higher than those of any other socioeconomic group of young people in this country. The various elements of a perfect storm -- materialism, pressure to achieve, perfectionism, disconnection -- are combining to create a crisis in America's culture of affluence. This culture is as unmanageable for parents -- mothers in particular -- as it is for their children. While many privileged kids project confidence and know how to make a good impression, alarming numbers lack the basic foundation of psychological development: an authentic sense of self. Even parents often miss the signs of significant emotional problems in their "star" children. In this controversial look at privileged families, Levine offers thoughtful, practical advice as she explodes one child-rearing myth after another. With empathy and candor, she identifies parenting practices that are toxic to healthy self-development and that have contributed to epidemic levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse in the most unlikely place -- the affluent family.

Customer Reviews:

  • Very Important Book
    I gave this to one of my sisters last spring when her teenage son was going thru some difficulties. She subsequently gave it to her husband, and then to the school headmaster who made it mandatory reading for the school's counseling dept. If they believe so strongly in this book, parents can, too. ...more info
  • From a grateful mom
    While most of the reviews have focused on Dr. Levine's acumen in dealing with teens, I have to say that this book was most helpful to me because of the way it deals with the problems of moms. I have two daughters, one troubled, one not. I've always been made to feel that my troubled daughter is somehow the result of awful parenting decisions I've made. Dr. Levine has helped me sort out the mistakes I've made, both with my daughter and myself, while maintaing perspective about the fact that not all things are in my control. Her warmth comes through on every page (not incidentally, she considers warmth "the silver bullet" of healthy relationships). But also her ability to stand in the shoes of often beleagured moms, without being critical or condescending, makes it easy to take her advice.
    Makes me wish she wish she lived down the street. Great and useful and ultimately optimistic book....more info
  • A long book, but has some good info.
    The book is worthwhile and has some excellent concepts in it. My only complaint is that most of the important concepts could be explained in a fraction of the pages used, and the book gets long. I'm glad I read it and I learned some things that will help in parenting, but it felt like work to finish the book....more info
  • A Parenting Book for EVERY Parent (not just the rich ones)
    Don't judge this book by its title. Parents at every income level will find it helpful. Although the book focuses somewhat on the emotional problems of priveleged youth, The Price of Privelege is a goldmine of valuable information and advice on parenting that we ALL could use. As a child psychologist, I have worked with children and families from all walks for life for the last 12 years. I have seen parents at all income levels make the same mis-steps that Levine talks about. Levine lays out, very clearly, why so much of what parents currently believe to be "good" parenting is at best unhelpful, and at worst destructive (news flash: controlling your child's behavior will help him/her be a happier person and do better in college; praise undermines confidence and effort; self-esteem is not as important as you think it is; chores are good for children).

    Dr. Levine wants all children to grow up to be happy, self-actualized, creative, independent people, having satisfying relationships and doing creative work that they love. She lays out very cogently why parenting that is warm and loving, but not controlling, leeds to poor outcomes for children; why allowing children to make mistakes and suffer the consequences is good for their self-confidence; and why "encouraging" children can leed them to feel turned off, burnt out, and empty.

    This may be the only parenting book you wil need....more info
  • Shares key insights on motherhood as well as parenting strategies
    As someone who has studied motherhood intensively for four years (and lived it for seven!) I wish I had a 10-star review in my back pocket to award to "The Price of Privilege." Dr. Madeline Levine provides a compelling body of work to fill in a missing piece of the current round of discussions about modern parenting among privileged families. Through my own work and life experience, I have come to the realization that highly educated, professional women face a specific set of challenges when they make the transition to motherhood. Our culture makes it very difficult to stay authentic to our selves and avoid the traps of perfectionism. Dr. Levine does women a real service by taking these challenges seriously rather than dismissing them. Contrary to much popular wisdom, she describes a generation of upper-middle-class kids as a new type of "at risk" child who is particularly prone to emotional disorders. (In a radio interview she said that these kids had previously been used as a control group in studies of low-income "at risk" kids, until the researchers astutely observed that the privileged kids had challenges of their own.) "The Price of Privilege" will be appreciated by readers in different ways. Levine draws upon her 25 years of clinical work with teens to provide perspective and developmentally appropriate parenting strategies. For readers with teenagers, the focus on the kids may be most appropriate. For parents of younger children, I highly recommend the book for the chapter on mothering, "Having Everything Except What We Need Most: The Isolation of Affluent Moms." In the media, the concerns of affluent women are often dismissed as whining and complaining from a group of women who "have it all." Dr. Levine gives these concerns her compassionate attention. She skillfully negotiates the boundary between bringing these concerns to light while doing her best to avoid blaming women for all that is wrong in families. Levine says that "My hope is that every mother who reads this chapter feels the sense of relief that comes when what we intuitively know to be true is recognized and validated." Thank you, Madeline Levine, for putting new life and gravitas into the old saying, "When Mama ain't happy, nobody ain't happy."...more info
  • Reinforcing the basics
    A family does not have to be "affluent" in the dollar amounts Dr. Levine describes, to have very similar issues. Middle class kids have "stuff", are envious of the designer "stuff" and haven't a sense of purpose of themselves. The truth is that many of the parents don't seem to either because they are caught up with evrything else except their kids. Kids from lower class to upper class all seem to have phones, Ipods, etc. While reading this book, I spoke with my 14-year old daughter who agreed with much of what the kids felt in the book and realized quite to her surprise that things aren't appreciated as well when not earned. Many of the cases are sad and the acting out for attention in extreme ways seems to happen more frequently. Cutting, getting high, lying, and failing school on purpose are done without seeing future consequences. I think therapy can work for all those frustrated parents and their kids. This is an informative book and what I took from it is: be a parent not a friend, establish rules and stick to them, help kids when warranted and don't let things go too far before doing something. ...more info
  • The Price of Privilege
    Great book. Easy to read. An important book to reflect on what's really important in raising healthy, successful, happy, and productive children.
    Recommended reading for any parent who has a teenager....more info
  • Great insights for parents living in competitive communities
    I bought this book after hearing about it on the Diane Rehm show on NPR. The book is a mix of research summaries, case studies, and the author's insights.

    As a parent who hates to discipline, the book was a good reminder of why discipline is necessary and also why it is so difficult. The book made me reflect on many other issues - including the difference between spending time with my kids and connecting with them. The book also did a great job in describing why providing an environment where a child can work on his/her inner self is very important, and that pressuring a child to excel in various areas may be counterproductive.

    As mentioned in other reviews, this book is written with compassion rather than criticism for parents, particularly with sensitivity to issues of mothers in today's world....more info
  • Where was this book when I needed it 5 or 10 years ago?
    I picked this book up almost by accident. But boy, am I glad I did. In "The Price of Privilege" (246 pages), author Madeline Levine, an accomplished psychologist who excels in dealing with troubled teenagers, examines the dangers and effects of teenagers growing up in an affluent environment. ("Affluent" is defined as a household earning $120,000 and more.)

    I have to say that I was blown away by the observations in this book, even if, thankfully, I certainly have not experienced the worst-case scenarios described in this book with my own kids, who are now 19 and 16. Among many other things, Levine explains how "rewarding" kids by promising material things ("if you get an "A" on your test, I will buy you X or Y") has a long-term negative effect on kids. Levine also goes into depth about internal vs. external motivation, and why praise is often "bad" warmth for kids. As to "chasing perfection", Levine observes that "the pursuit of perfection is a diversion from the messiness of real life". So true! The main proposition made by the author is that, while of course it is important that we put our kids in a position to get good grades, even more important is that we help our kids with building their inner "self", which will prepare them for the long term. Reason why overinvolvement in our kids' lives is actually counterproductive.

    I cannot emphasize enough what a wonderful job Levine does in describing the dangers of putting too much pressure on our kids. Which does not mean that she endorses a "slacker" attitude either. This book is about how we can best prepare our affluent kids for the long term. And it's not like the author is making a hypothetical or theoretical or academic case, giving ample real life evidence from her own practice and from studies around the country. I certainly recognized mistakes I have made, which I now wish I could've avoided, making me wonder wishfully, where was this book when I really needed it 5 or 10 years ago... ...more info
  • Learned About Myself Too
    I bought this book after seeing it cited in a newspaper article about how parents these days are pushing their kids, even kindergarteners, too hard. I was intrigued by the title and the book did not disappoint! I bought it thinking it would help me be a better mom to my son as he grows up (he is only 1 year old right now), but in the process I learned a ton about myself and how important it is for the emotional well-being of my children that I am emotionally healthy myself. I underlined numerous things throughout the book and plan to refer back to it often over the years to come. There is a great section on the different ages and stages that kids go through and how to parent effectively during each of them. That was so interesting to me.

    The very last section of the book was about the working moms debate and the author does a superb job of presenting a balanced view. I did not feel bad after reading the book; in fact, I felt understood and encouraged.

    I will definitely re-read this book and recommend it to others....more info
  • As a therapist, I found this book informative and easy to read
    In a nutshell, this is a great book. Informative, insightful for parents, teens and even just the public at large. It helps to understand the "ME ME" generation going on right now. I recoomended it to all of my clients....more info
  • The Price is psychologically devastatingly high. Read the book to protect your family from psychological dysfunction
    This is an excellent book about how the affluent have adopted undermining values (perfectionism, materialism) and how it negatively affects parenting style and causes psychological neurosis among teens. I am the parent of a teenage daughter who goes to a public high school in Marin County. Thus, we live in the social milieu described by Dr. Levine. The book content was both shocking and revealing to me. When I shared some of Dr. Levine's findings that I could not believe I would ask my daughter about them. Invariably, she confirmed that Dr. Levine was correct. That's how I found out that one of my daughter's acquaintances did cut herself frequently. That's also when I knew that Dr. Levine was onto something and not just sensationalizing another marketable myth about Marin County. Also, this book really is not about Marin County as it depicts a nationwide prevalent phenomenon of teenage psychological dysfunction among the affluent.

    The book's main thesis is that teenagers from affluent families suffer more intense psychological problems than anyone thought. Her findings reflects her 25 years of experience as a psychologist working with children in Marin County and her reviewing related clinical studies on the subject. Dr. Levine has extensively referenced the material of the book. Thus, her thesis and arguments are well supported by contemporary psychological research.

    The book includes four parts. The first part diagnoses the psychological problems affecting teenagers from affluent families. The second part reviews how our material culture contributes to undermining the development of the inner self. The third part provides recommendation on how to parent to overcome cultural hurdles and develop healthy children. The fourth part reflects on how you have to develop your own strength and independence before you can impart those qualities to your kids. The first three sections overlap a lot as diagnostics of affluent teenagers problems, criticism of our materialistic society, and advice on parenting are peppered throughout the book regardless of the section. Somehow, the liquidity in categorization of the topic does not detract in the book's readability.

    Dr. Levine mentions two key factors leading to dysfunctional teen among the affluent: The first is achievement pressure. The second is emotional isolation from parents. She observed that parents are over involved as far as grades and performance are involved but they are often too busy for down to earth conversation with their teens that would help their inner self growth.

    The parents' focus on performance leads to the kids' perfectionism that leads to serious problems. Dr. Levine observed that studies uncovered a strong relationship between perfectionism and suicide among teens that are gifted. It is not the parents' high expectations that are the culprit, but when parental love becomes conditional to the child's achievement.

    Within the third chapter of this section, Dr. Levine studies the counterintuitive disconnect between money and happiness. Once basic needs are met, apparently surplus money does not make people happier. Dr. Levine has reviewed cross lateral and longitudinal scientific studies that confirm that. For example, the Irish apparently are happier than the Germans and the Japanese. Yet, the Irish GDP per capita is about less than half the Germans or Japanese. Americans are not happier today than they were a generation ago even though their GDP per capita (adjusted for inflation) has nearly doubled.

    In the third part of the book, Dr. Levine analyzes parenting by referring to the seminal research of Dr. Baumrind who established the foundation of psychological studies on parenting. Dr. Baumrind differentiates between three parenting style: 1) authoritarian, 2) permissive, and 3) authoritative.

    The Authoritarian parent adopts a military style. They think of the child strictly as a subordinate. The parents order, the child obeys. And, that's it. This typically leads to terrible problems during the teen years. Either the teen violently explode out of rebellion or he breaks down. Such teens have often low self esteem, poor social skills, and a high rate of depression. Such child often lacks curiosity and creativity and is unable to explore and develop his inner self.

    The Permissive parent is very loving and caring but short on discipline. They think of the child as a friend. The resulting teen is often likable and has high self-esteem. But, they tend to be impulsive, immature, and lack awareness of the responsibility of their own action. They also have lower rates of academic achievement and higher rates of substance abuse.

    The Authoritative parent is warm and accepting, but they set clear expectations and limits. They place a high value on cooperation, responsibility, and self-regulation. They value achievement and self-motivation but do not emphasize competition. Authoritative parents promote autonomy by encouraging children to figure it out on their own whenever they can. Such parents support the child's growing autonomy by focusing both on independence and connection. As expected, such household foster better overall child development with lower rate of depression and substance abuse than either of the other two parenting styles. Autonomy, not dependency, is always the goal of such parenting style.

    If you have a daughter, I also strongly recommend Louann Brizendine "The Female Brain." She dedicates an excellent chapter to the "Teen Brain." This book informs that female teen behaviors are not only a function of the social milieu but are strongly influenced by an abrupt change in hormonal levels. We all know that. But, Brizendine really educates one in detail about the process and how to deal with it. Some of us need all the help we can get, right!?
    ...more info
  • Targeted for mothers, useful for fathers too
    This is one of the the few parenting books I've actually read cover to cover. As the father of three young children, I find that most authors are in love with their words and give too many examples, when I have too little time to read. Dr. Levine's slim volume doesn't skimp on the facts or on the suggestions, but never dallies. Certainly, she knows, that for the most part, her audience is busy and often overwhelmed.
    I found this book useful for two reasons in particular. First, Dr. Levine does an outstanding job of presenting the facts. While everyone seems to have an opinion about what's wrong with the current generation _- too spoiled, too lazy, too indulged- Dr. Levine sticks to what we actually do know about the adjustment of affluent kids, and that is that they are often unhappy. And that their unhappiness stems from having too much of the wrong things (pressure and material goods) and too little of the things that kids really need (acceptance, limits, challenge). I suspect that to many of us this is not entirely a surprise
    Which brings me to the second thing I really liked about this book. In spite of bringing foward a host of rather disturbing realities, The Price of Privilege never feels depressing or makes you feel like you really screwed up. On the contrary, Dr. Levine's generous sharing of family incidents, as well as her empathy and humor, keep us feeling that with just a few adjustments we can do a much better job.
    Truthfully, I believe her....more info
  • read overachievers instead
    This woman is really annoying and self-satisfied and you almost have more symphathy with the cell-phone toting materialistic teenagers she is trying to "guide". For a more insightful look at modern teenage life among the privileged, read the Overachievers ...more info
  • Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are NOT Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids
    Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are NOT Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. The problem is disconnected and unhappy parents who do not have appropriate relationships with their kids and do not take their children with them into honest, supportive communities. The book presents some good ideas for improving conditions, but Dr. Levine has misdiagnosed the problem in the title of her book. Too many parents (people) in our culture are isolated and in their isolation they are incapable of teaching children to participate in community life and to be happy. Parents have to improve their own connectedness in adult communities before they can make real progress with their kids. Wealth is a minor distraction....more info
  • Must Read
    One of the best books on parenting I have read in years! It's especially relevant to the parents of today, living in this highly competitive world. 90% of the parents I know commit many of the parenting "errors" mentioned in the book. We all spend too much time trying to help our children "succeed" and forgetting that our true ultimate goal is for them to be happy. Too many privileged children grow up without the chance to develope a "sense of self" (which is key to becoming a happy adult) because their successful parents had their paths all drawn out for them, all the way to an Ivy League college!!

    I bought many copies to give to teachers and friends. ...more info
  • A great gift for ANYONE with kids!

    As soon as I finshed it I sent it my own mother and think that I have to give copies of the book anyone that I know with kids or thinking of having kids. Fantastic not only for the "affluent" but for all to read and learn about the children that will be running to world in years to come....more info
  • good premise, but redundant material
    I am neither an educator nor in the mental health field, I'm simply a parent who tries to read widely. I think the premise of this book is quite interesting, it's certainly an easy read, and the book does articulate a set of problems that privileged kids are faced with. But as is typical with social psychology books, it's overburdened by too many anecdotal stories that describe similar problems without explaining the underlying issues. The parents are universally painted as self-centered and too busy yet expecting the best for and of their progeny; is this really the cause, or are there other downsides of privilege tied to larger social phenomena?

    This should have stayed a magazine-length article but has been padded to be book-length, with the price tag adjusted accordingly. Borrow it from a friend. ...more info
  • Great read!
    I found this book both terrifying and hopeful all in one. I have already bought this as a gift for a friend as well as had another friend buy it. I'm now passing my copy on to other friends. Dr. Levine put it beautifully when she speaks of how parenting has become more of a business proposition. What happened to enjoying the journey with our kids instead of focusing on the outcome? I continue to quote this book daily and think it's a great lesson for all....more info
  • The Price of Privilege
    This book enlightens parents to the consequences of pampering their chidren monetarily and with lack of discipline. The topic crosses the affluence boundary and affects all families in this day and age, to some extent. Chidlren are growing up with less of a spiritual core which parents fill with 'stuff', playing into the consumer culture of today. It's not only a great parenting book, but an excellent profile of our need to succeed in order to feel worthy. She is a great writer and I highly recommend this book....more info
  • Excellent read
    I read this for a parent's book club. I breezed through it and found it really useful. Great examples, really brought the book to life. I gained some very good insights and tips from it. And the book club had a long, involved discussion. The book was a perfect launching point....more info
  • Teens are fine; grownups (and psychologists) are messed up
    If author Levine reversed her book's title and emphasis to warn about the epidemic of parents inflicting their own materialism, drug and alcohol abuse, crime, divorce, and other ills on their teenaged kids, this would be valuable book. Just look at the misguided, favorable reviews to see how badly this book miscommunicates the realities facing teens today.

    I taught at a big university near Marin County and saw hundreds of these "priveleged" (and not so privileged) students at close range. As a generation, they're fine, generally coping well with stresses. Their parents' generation, however, is not all right. I'm convinced from the growing stack of books like these that psychologists desperately need to get out of their offices and spend time in homes and real-life environments to see how a variety of young people (not just the tiny fraction they see as clients) are coping.

    Or, at least, psychologists should stop citing anecdotes and self-praising cases and study the social statistics for the areas they live in. Let us take public health and crime figures for Marin County and compare adults ages 40-49 (the average parents) with teens. About 10 times more parents than teens die from drug abuse, 50% more 40-agers are arrested (including nearly TWICE as many for felonies) than teenagers, FIVE TIMES more 40-aged parents than teenaged youths are arrested for drug and alcohol related offenses, and seven times more parents than teens commit suicide. Those are just a few indicators among many to suggest that it isn't the teens--it's the grownups of Levine's generation who are messed up. You can explore more of these shocking statistics for yourselves. For example, see California tabulations at: (crime) (health)

    Levine's claims that teenagers today are more materialistic, selfish, money-hungry, etc. are just garbage. The same surveys she cites actually show that as a result of their parents' generation's greedy refusal to pay taxes to support schools, teens and college students today face massive debts and must work more in college to pay skyrocketing tuitions than their more generously supported parents did 40 years ago. By the best measures, students today are much more community oriented, happier, and less materialistic and troubled than their parents were or are.

    So, my modest suggestion is that if you mistakenly bought this book, rip out 90% of the pages and keep only the few in which Levine urges parents to cut out their own bad behaviors and values. Reviewers: stop buying into these books, even if they do flatter your personal demographic. Publishers: we've got a big enough stack of psychologists' narrow, bubble-world misconceptions derived from fixating on their most troubled clients and failure to engage the realities of the larger world.

    Mike Males, Ph.D. info
  • Thoughtful, practical advice
    As the mother of four children ages 7 to 17, I found Dr. Levine's The Price of Privilege to be an invaluable book. Written like a close, wise, warm friend, Dr. Levine tells it like it is, does not sugar coat the responsibilities that parents have, and where they tend to mess up, but maintains a sympathetic tone throughout. Most important to me was the chapter for women about the challenges of parenting when you "have everything" (which I certainly don't have) but feel lost and alone. Wish she was my local shrink, I'd consult her in a heartbeat even though I usually shy away from the advice of "professionals" (who often have lots of opinions and little common sense).
    Great guidelines for kids of all ages and parents of different parenting strategies. Highly recommended...more info
  • Smart, accurate and helpful
    Finally, a book that helps you understand the problem, offers solutions and somehow doesn't make you feel bad about your mistakes in the process. Dr. Levine clearly has lots of experience, but just as important, she has lots of empathy for us moms who are struggling to do our best and sometimes miss the mark. Just as useful for helping my 8 year old as my 15 year old.
    While the problems of pressured kids and the resulting psychological toll is the result of many factors, Dr. Levine reminds us of the parts that we actually have control with- starting with our families and fanning out to our communities. While calling for a sea change in the attitudes we all have for our kids, she never lets you feel stranded. Terrific book for anyone who really wants a sympathetic but useful and ultimately optimistic way to change course with their kids...more info
  • Excellent Book For All Parents
    We are not rich, but I am concerned about my kids being spoiled. I want them to have balanced lives and grow up to be happy adults. This book pointed out several things I was doing wrong and it helped steer me in the right direction regarding what to look for and how to be a better parent. I have read tons of parenting books and this one by far is one of the best....more info


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