Generation empty

Marin psychologist Madeline Levine says that driving our kids to succeed is a journey over an emotional cliff.


Tomorrow’s movers and shakers are emotionally wounded, says psychologist Madeline Levine. An increasing number of well-heeled, driven, high-achieving adolescents are growing up without conscience or community. These are the kids who will be filling classrooms at Harvard and Princeton and who will later be our politicians, policy makers, doctors and lawyers—and that’s a problem for all of us.

Levine’s new book, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, exposes the ugly side of these smart, stylish teens and their affluent families. They look perfect and appear to have everything; but one in every three is deeply troubled. They’re anxious and depressed, they’re abusing hard drugs, they’re lying and cheating, they’re suicidal, self-destructive, desperate and angry.

The conventional wisdom has always been that children raised in affluence are protected from the psychological traumas of lower socioeconomic groups. To highlight the differences, Dr. Suniya Luthar of Columbia University—whose research forms the scientific underpinning of Levine’s book—compared the emotional well-being of children in poverty with that of affluent kids. She was surprised to find that the affluent children were more troubled.

Levine has seen both sides of this equation. Her roots are in working-class Queens, New York, and her first career was in inner-city schools that were more like war zones than teaching establishments. But for the last 25 years, she has been treating the privileged children of Marin County in her private psychology practice. She’s also raised three sons here. Married to a successful surgeon, she lives in a sprawling wood-shingled home in one of the toniest areas of this highly affluent county. When I arrive at her front door, I’m welcomed inside by her Latina maid.

Levine joins me in her front room where light pours in through long, narrow windows placed high above us near the cathedral ceiling. She still has a trace of a New York accent and an earthy, unassuming manner. She’s wearing jeans with a pin-striped navy blouse, shirttails out, a pair of reading glasses on top of her head. Her eyes are close-set, her smile dazzling. As we talk, her youngest son, age 15, passes through on his way to the kitchen, barefoot, with a friend in tow.

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clock Posted Wed Aug 30th, 2006

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Father: "He never amounted to anything". Mother: "Who the hell does he think he is"? Former Teacher: "Smart as a bag of hammers". Former Boss: "Condescending". Brother: "Mom loves me more".
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