Psychologist Madeline Levine wasn’t entirely sure what the reaction would be when her book, “The Price of Privilege,” was published more than four years ago.
Drawing on her years of experience treating troubled adolescents in Marin County, Levine argued in the book that materialism, the pressure to achieve, perfectionism and disconnection have contributed to epidemic rates of depression, substance abuse and anxiety disorders among adolescents in affluent, well-educated communities.
She cited the enormous amount of time so many kids spend on athletics, homework and other extracurricular activities and said, “nobody can keep up with that level of stress and lack of sleep and repetitive work.”
Levine expected some negative reaction, some “blowback,” as she put it, because she was “identifying a problem that hadn’t been looked at before.”
But what she found as she toured the country in the years after the book was published was that parents, teachers and school administrators nearly everywhere she went were seeing the same things.
“Every community has seen the costs … of this kind of high-pressure, high-stakes life,” she explained.
When Levine appeared in Davis two years ago, she drew a huge crowd to Freeborn Hall eager to hear what she had to say. Her appearance followed on the heels of a screening of the film “Race to Nowhere” a few months earlier, a screening that touched on many of the same issues and drew a crowd of 550 people.
And when word got out that Levine would be returning to Davis next month as part of Davis Parent University, all 500 tickets sold out well in advance. Levine will be speaking at the Brunelle Performance Hall on Friday, Feb. 8, from 7 to 9 p.m. and her presentation will be taped and aired by Davis Media Access later in February.
This time around, having already focused on what she sees as the problem, Levine is focused more on solutions.
“It’s shifted from a discussion of whether there is a problem to what can be done,” she explained. “It assumes the problem and attempts to address the questions.”
Those questions, she said, arise at the intersection of parental common sense and parental peer pressure. She points to current arguments over the amount of homework children receive and the number of advanced placement classes they take.
“I think the majority of parents really fully understand that it’s not in their kids’ best interest to be taught to the test, to do repetitive work, but they’re fearful they will disadvantage their kids,” Levine said.
“Parents ask, ‘What can I do? I understand my child shouldn’t be doing five hours of homework, but that’s what the school insists on,’” Levine said. “Same with all the AP classes. When I talk to parents, they point their finger at the schools. When I talk to faculty, they point their finger at parents, saying parents want them. When I talk to both, they point their fingers at colleges.”
The bottom line, though, Levine said, “is who’s got the most skin in the game? It’s your kid. It’s the parent who is charged with protecting the kid.”
In her most recent book, “Teach Your Children Well,” published late last year, Levine offers numerous tips on what she calls “parenting for authentic success,” tips she’ll be offering when she speaks in Davis next week.
Society’s current narrow definition of success, Levine argues, unnecessarily stresses academically talented kids and marginalizes many more whose talents and interests perhaps aren’t as measurable inside the classroom.
“Rightly or wrongly,” Levine said, “everyone is trying to optimize their child’s success. But as long as we cling to a narrow version of success we stress a small group of kids and marginalize a large group.”
Or in other words, as her book is subtitled: “Why values and coping skills matter more than grades, trophies and ‘fat envelopes.’ ”
Ticket-holders for Levine’s Feb. 8 presentation should be at the Brunelle Performance Hall, 315 W 14th St., by 6:30 p.m. Any seats open after 6:50 p.m. will be offered to walk-ins. The event will be taped and available for viewing by Feb. 28 at http://dctv.davismedia.org/dpu-home
Levine’s appearance is presented by the Communitywide K-12 Parent Education Collaborative and the DJUSD Climate Committee. For more information, contact Jodi Liederman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or (530) 747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.