Forget the SATs, AP Courses and Possible Carcinogens, Teach Your Children Well

A parenting book that actually might positively impact your child's life?

Although this space is generally reserved for the books, articles, official recommendations, etc. that might screw up your life and your kid here's one potentially bright and shiny opportunity for optimism (at least if you take her advice) thanks to one busy and one hope's wise clinical psychologist attending to the children who've been messed up by their parents in the lovely though tenaciously affluent Marin County, California.

Madeline Levine, author of the new “Teach Your Children Well" argues this country had better rethink the current hyper achievement-oriented parenting culture that leverages test scores, academic achievement, sports achievement, summers bulking up on internships (i.e. anything that helps get kids into the right schools/college) at the expense of those touchy-feely, elusive and undervalued assets like empathy, happiness and creativity.

Who are these parents?  If any of this sounds familiar take a peek next door or into the mirror (hand partially raised):
These are parents who run themselves ragged with work and hyper-parenting, presenting an “eviscerated vision of the successful life” that their children are then programmed to imitate. They’re parents who are physically hyper-present but somehow psychologically M.I.A.: so caught up in the script that runs through their heads about how to “do right” by their children that they can’t see when the excesses of keeping up, bulking up, getting a leg up and generally running scared send the whole enterprise of ostensible care and nurturing right off the rails.  Judith Warner, How To Raise a Child, New York Times, July 30
In other words, me at my worst and yes I will be rushing out to my Amazon shopping cart to buy this one just as soon as I sign up my almost 4th grader for travel soccer (yes, it's easier to get a passport - can we discuss that later?) and download a few "fun" reading Apps for my 1st grader before school starts and sit down and break it to my 6th grader that not only does the school recommend she take Algebra in the fall but there's a sheath of worksheets for her to peruse at her leisure (lay-zer) this summer...although it's not like Algebra is necessary according to this poli sci professor.  (So who thinks I should make my daughter take Algebra?  She doesn't really want to - because there's like 3 girls in the class - can you say Future Math Anxiety - but the schools says she should and frankly she never studies for math anyhow.) 

Oh it's not just academic pressures, Levine slaps down the chemophobia too according to Warner:
Here, her insights are fresh. “When apples were sprayed with a chemical at my local supermarket, middle-aged moms turned out, picket signs and all, to protest the possible risk to their children’s health,” Levine reflects. “Yet I’ve seen no similar demonstrations about an educational system that has far more research documenting its own toxicity. We have bought into this system not because we are bad people or are unconcerned about our children’s well-being, but because we have been convinced that any other point of view will put our children at even greater risk.”
Ouch! Chop! Middle-aged moms?  I'm sure she's not talking about those of us who put off childbearing until well after our prime childbearing decade because we were too busy or otherwise preoccupied but who could tell because we've been running marathons, buying Spanx and injecting toxins into our crevices. No, not me, not yet anyhow because then I wouldn't have time to sit on my butt and write this kind of stuff.   

Now some of you may recall Levine's first warning salvo - "The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids."  Think I put it on one of my Best Parenting Books of The Year lists and if I didn't well, I should have because I still re-read it at times. The title pretty much tells all you need to know before putting it in your cart too.   

I cannot wait to read the newest parental smack-down. Apparently the kiddie shrink also analyzes why we adults run around like half-crazed idiots perpetrating these wrongs against our children and I doubt we can blame it on our own parents. My parents must have done something wrong but it wasn't too much test prep or lack of unstructured time. Don't know about you but in my youth I was sitting around picking off my scabs and sunburns and jumping off the top of the swingset or slide or whatever I could find that clearly didn't have rubber mulch or other child-friendly ground covering underneath and my parents who were teachers actually let me.  

Another discussion: The value of performing, working or "volunteering" (i.e. whatever your parents who didn't care a whit about your future LinkedIn profile expected you to do) in boring, tedious and monotonous jobs (e.g., filing medical charts, painting screen doors, weeding, spreading tar on driveways, babysitting.).

In any event look no further for your Beach Book, here it is! Go ahead, be late for your bikini wax, watch the CSN video.  Who doesn't love that song but honestly, what kind of parents were those guys.


Awesome Mom said...

It sounds like she and I would get along great. I will admit though that one of the biggest reasons I don't have my kids in a ton of activities is sheer laziness. I would much rather be doing some knitting than shuttling my kids from activity to activity. Right now my kids are forced outside to their own devices despite their protests that being outside for longer than 10 seconds is cruel and unusual punishment.

Barbara @therextras said...

Very self deprecating of you, Polly. I think you are a little too hard on yourself. But, I'm solidly in the camp of the author of this book.

At the same time I've seen too many parents disinterested & neglectful. What do you think would be the most accurate criteria for grouping parents according for predicting child outcome?
Educational achievement/level?
Church attendance?
Urban or rural?
Military service?

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Hey Awesome, I think some kids could use some well-placed laziness, no?

Barbara, as usual, making me think too much. Hmmm. Good question. If I had only one variable to predict child outcomes....what outcome? General mental health? I'd pick parental stress level. What about you? Me thinks you have an idea. Surely there's some empirical data out there....will dig...

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Or maybe parental support? A broad, elusive, ambiguous and I'm sure difficult to quantify quantity that surely would be among one of the top predictors.

Barbara @therextras said...

I expect you will mine something meaningful, Polly. As a single predictor, my answer would be parental intelligence. But is a single predictor meaningful? The intelligence factor explains (more of) the exceptions of success by children of poverty than extra curricular activities. Extracurricular activities are positive contributors to success but not a single predictor. IMO.