The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine

A Sense of Lovability is the Core of All Healthy Self-Development

In Order to Learn How to Cope with Normal Frustrations, We First Have to Experience Them

Nannies often see the parents they work for as down-to-earth, hard working, appreciative, respectful, and loving parents yet worry that they see the children in their care growing into adolescents that don’t value money, are disrespectful, spoiled, and materialistic.

That’s why nannies and parents of affluent children should read The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine. The psychologist and author simply, concisely, and plainly illustrates that most of the trappings of the culture of affluence such as status, money, possessions, achievement, the school the children attend, or the grades they get, are not factors that contribute to the development of a healthy sense of self or happiness and success in children. The author explains that some aspects of an affluent culture, such as materialism, competition, and perfectionism, may actually contribute to children’s psychological problems.

Levine writes, “America’s newly identified at-risk group is preteens and teens from affluent, well-educated families. In spite of their economic and social advantages, they experience among the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints, and unhappiness of any group of children in this country.”

The fact is, the United States is one of the most affluent countries in the world, and a large number of our children lead lives of privilege. A substantial group of children enjoy high levels of privilege — televisions, computers, video games, and cell phones — even those with parents with modest incomes. So, why are the most advantaged kids in this country running into unprecedented levels of mental illness and emotions distress?

The author explains the most fundamentally important task of child development is autonomy and a health sense of self. She writes, “Well-developed autonomy allows kids to reliably and confidently see the world through their own eyes without fear of disappointing the parents.” She teaches us to avoid training children that external rewards are responsible for personal happiness. Levine recommends adults encourage the development of internal motivation and downplay the importance of external motivation when raising children.

The author understands that it is difficult to deny children their wants and desires, whether it’s the toddler desperate for candy at the supermarket checkout or the teen insisting that her life is over if she can’t have the latest fashion. However — and this is a painful psychological truth — our primary responsibility is not to gratify children but to make certain that they develop skills that will help them meet life’s inevitable challenges and disappointments.

For example, when a toddler trips on the first set of stairs, we would do well to let him pick himself up. His fall, after all, is only a matter of inches. If we intervene too quickly (“Oh, he’s so young, he could get hurt so easily”), we make it harder for him to climb up the next flight or stairs. The author explains that every stage in a child’s life delivers frustrations, disappointments, challenges, and opportunities. Parents and caregivers who have difficulty tolerating their child’s distress, who are quick to step in and take over, hamper the child’s ability to continue climbing.

Levine teaches us that kids who have not had repeated experiences of finding ways to manage frustration may give the appearance of moving forward, but they have not accumulated the necessary self-management skills of self-control, perseverance, frustration tolerance, and anxiety management that will allow them to address the more complex challenges they will encounter as they climb higher. Kids that have found that they have within themselves the ability to pick themselves up and keep going develop a repertoire of self-management skills and sense of resilience.

Levine writes that children need work experiences to develop a sense that success is a function of their own efforts. Some of the wisest and most successful wealthy parents have their kids participate in family chores and neighborhood jobs and do not discuss family wealth with their kids.

The author says the two factors that repeatedly emerge as contributing factors to children’s high levels of emotional problems are isolation and achievement pressure and from their parents.

Levine warns, “Friends, nannies, housekeepers, au pairs, or older siblings cannot fill the role that the concerned and involved parents occupies.” She explains that children simply cannot be raised by parents in absentia. Material advantages do not lessen the sting of unavailability.

Achievement pressure often comes from parents who are over involved in how well their children perform but are inadequately involved in monitoring these same children in other areas. She writes, “When parents place an excessively high value on outstanding performance, children come to see anything less than perfections as failure.”

The author says, “Parent’s anxiety about school performance leads to children who are pressured and anxious, but perhaps most dangerously it also leads to children who are perfectionists.” She reveals that there is a particularly strong relationship between perfectionism and suicide among gifted adolescents. She notes that adolescent suicide is often precipitated by a perceived failure at school.

When a parent’s love is experienced as conditional on achievement children are at risk for serious emotional problems. Parents and caregivers must guide children to find themselves rather than push them to fulfill adult narcissistic needs. Children must experience failure to learn how to successfully cope with frustrations, disappointments, challenges, and opportunities. Caregivers must encourage children’s internal self-worth, not external motivation, when raising children.

Purchase your own copy of the book by clicking the links above or below. Don’t forget to stop by next Saturday for another book review.

The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids


  1. […] it can be done even in the most privileged of homes. In the book The Price of Privilege, Madeline Levine convincingly explains that some effects of an affluent culture, such as […]

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