Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success by Madeline Levine, Ph.D., may be one of the most important parenting books of our times. Published in the summer of 2012, the book has become a best-seller. Dr. Levine has an important message that builds on her over thirty years of clinical experience in affluent Marin County, California. Her message is that traditional forms of academic success and parents’ high expectations of their children to achieve this type of success are not the best preparation for the life that lies ahead of the younger generation. Dr. Levine reminds us that schooling and parenting aren’t just about academic achievement. Instead, childhood is a critical time for laying the groundwork for a loving, successful, and happy adulthood.
The question of how parents teach their children is not just academic. As Dr. Levine wrote in her 2009 bestseller The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, kids at the top strata of our society are unexpectedly unhappier today than ever before. The very children we think should be content—those with affluent, loving parents—are often anxious, depressed, and academically indifferent underneath their veneers of academic and extracurricular success. In addition, this group of kids is suffering from these issues more than other socioeconomic group today, despite their material wellbeing. In fact, Dr. Levine found that materialism and overindulgence often create a group of kids who crave outward approval and the next notch on their academic belt but who are inwardly unsatisfied and empty. As a result, affluent kids often feel a great deal of stress, particularly at school.
After identifying these toxic elements in the lives of today’s privileged kids in her last book, in her current book, Dr. Levine writes about what parents can do to raise children who grow up to be fulfilled and emotionally healthy adults. In Teach Your Children Well, she deftly outlines the tasks of the different stages of childhood that build emotional intelligence, or the ability to recognize and handle one’s own emotions and those of others. For example, in the early years, children should concentrate on building solid friendships, and in the teenage years, they need to learn ways to stay healthy and manage peer relationships. At all stages, they should have time to play. Experts have documented the importance of play in developing children’s minds and cognitive abilities. However, today’s stressful academic climate often leaves too little time for kids to play and explore—activities that create authentic, fulfilled adults.
Dr. Levine suggests that at all stages of childhood development, children need to develop independence. In order to feel confident and develop the resourcefulness necessary to adulthood, children need to feel that they can do things on their own. In the final part of the book, the author helps parents develop an action plan that involves self-reflection and empathy on the parents’ part. Dr. Levine reminds us that all children are works in progress, not just finished products, and that they should not be measured against unrealistic expectations.
In this book, Dr. Levine also suggests that schools have a role in reducing children’s stress. For example, she cites research that about an hour of homework is beneficial for kids in middle school but that more is of little benefit. She recommends speaking to teachers about ways in which schools can reduce kids’ stress. Some schools have already implemented programs to reduce nightly homework and to create healthier kids through programs such as yoga and meditation.
Dr. Levine’s message is at some levels a reassuring one. Parents can stop what she calls “hyperparenting” and engage less in a war of competition in which children (and by extension adults) have to constantly prove themselves. Instead, parents can enjoy the process of developing social skills and moral values in their children. Parents can also continue to wonder at the adults their children are slowly becoming instead of insisting their children fit into a narrow definition of success. Dr. Levine reminds us that adults can achieve success in many different fields and that rarely is a person good at everything. Instead, we can cultivate what makes each child great, what she calls each child’s “superpower,” rather than insisting that children compete in a never-ending battle to be the best at everything.