Best known as "Bunk" from the TV series "The Wire," Wendell Pierce is now working to rebuild his old neighborhood, Pontchartrain Park, one of New Orleans' first middle-class African American communities.
It’s something of a cliche that kids today are overscheduled, grade-obsessed and under enormous pressure to land at the right school. Anxiety and depression are soaring among kids, including high achievers who believe they’re only as good as their last success. We ask two experts how parents can rethink priorities and raise happy, well-adjusted kids.
- Madeline Levine Psychologist; Author, "The Price of Privilege" and "Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success"
- Judith Warner Columnist for Time.com; author, “ We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the age of Medication,” and Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety”
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Parents often boast about their overachieving kids, students whose schedules are packed with AP courses, hours of nightly homework, loads of extracurricular activities. But kids score top grades and are expecting that all important letter of admission from a big-name college, but that fat envelope comes at a price.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIA growing number of young people are overwhelmed, anxious and depressed, including those who seem to be doing everything right. Some say we need to rethink our definition of success and that perhaps it's the qualities that can't be measured like creativity and resilience. That might be more important than we think. Joining us to discuss this is Judith Warner. She's a columnist for Time.com and the author of "We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication" and "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety." Judy Warner, thank you for joining us.
MS. JUDITH WARNERThanks for having me here.
NNAMDIJoining us from studios at KQED in San Francisco is Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of "Teach Your Children Well: Parenting For Authentic Success" and "The Price of Privilege." She's also a cofounder of Challenge Success, an education reform organization based at Stanford University. Madeline Levine, thank you for joining us.
MS. MADELINE LEVINEThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDII'll start with you, Madeline. You believe that we have a limited definition of success in today's world, one that leaves many kids quite stressed and leaves a lot of other kids out entirely. Can you talk a little bit about that?
LEVINESure. So it seems to me that we are heavily dependent on metrics for evaluating the child who's successful or not. So that kind of works for an analytic academically talented kid, many of whom are extremely, as you said, stressed out. Because the academic load is completely out of line with everything we know about how kids learn optimally. You know, they've got four hours of homework, when we know that after two hours they're not learning anymore. So that group is very stressed.
LEVINEAnd then you have a whole group of kids whose talents lay elsewhere. They're creative kids, they're hands-on kids, they're kids whose skills are much harder to measure and they generally are marginalized particularly in affluent communities where those kinds of skills just are not considered what it takes to make it out in the world. None of which is true. I mean this is all a myth about what it takes to be successful, but I think it's the (unintelligible) we have right now.
NNAMDIJudy, you've described what we're seeing as a McKenzie version of the world. Can you explain?
WARNERI think it's what Madeline just said in terms of viewing people in terms of metrics, of these kind of numerical reworks that breakdown into these kind of mechanistic ideas of what success is and how you quantify it. And it really is a version of success that can show up in some way on a balance sheet and that does get at qualities that relate to output narrowly defined and sort of producing in a very narrow sense. And again, those qualities that are less easy to quantify like creativity or what we tend to think of as sort of human qualities, qualities having to do with the person's heart and kind of what they give to the world, these things don't count at all.
WARNERAnd that sounds very sort of touchy, feely, soft, but there are plenty of psychologists who have argued that those are the very qualities that lead to a broader sort of success in adulthood.
NNAMDII'd like to ask our listeners, what do you think is most important to your kids' future success? You can call us at 800-433-8850. What do you think is most important to your kids' future success? You can send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a Tweet at kojoshow with your response or you can go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. Madeline, you're a practicing psychologist and you see a number of kids who lead the overscheduled, pressure-cooker lives we're talking about. What are some of the effects of that?
LEVINEWell, "The Price of Privilege" opened with a young lady who, for all the world, looked terrific in designer clothes and terrific social skills. And she'd come to my office with the word empty written into her forearm with a razor. And she sort of became emblematic for me of kids who have perfected kind of a veneer of being successful. Affluent communities are good at looking successful even when there is a lot of stuff going on that isn't so successful.
LEVINEBut she was extremely depressed and extremely unhappy and I would say the -- what motivated me to get started with all of this was seeing -- I've been an adolescent psychologist for 27 years seeing a whole new group of kids for whom, you know, they look terrific on the outside, but essentially they were depressed, they were anxious. The numbers are pretty horrifying, Kojo. You know, one out of four kids has symptoms of major depression or an anxiety disorder. Twenty-five percent of kids on college campuses are substance abusers. Not users, but abusers. Seventeen percent of kids at the ivy leagues are self mutilators.
LEVINEI mean, every measure of emotional health has deteriorated in the last 20 years as we've ratcheted up our expectations for kids. And, you know, everything has a risk and a reward. You can push kids to stay up half the night on Adoral (sp?) and, you know, drink Red Bull in the morning. And there are some kids -- you know, I want to be clear -- there are some kids who actually can manage this. But my argument would be that it's a very small group of kids and a much larger group of kids, I would say, the risk for reward ratio is very poor.
NNAMDIDo you think it's they're under too much pressure? Call us, 800-433-8850. Judy, it's a cliche, but parents always say, I just want my kids to be happy. But is that message parents, schools and societies are sending kids?
WARNERI think parents are confused as to what they mean by happiness. I think they mean it when they say it. And Madeline points out in her book, you know, it doesn't go over with the kids. I mean, the kids see right through it. They kind of laugh at that. I think the parents really do mean it but I think parents are so anxious as to what lies down the line for their kids for varying reasons according to where they are kind of, you know, on the income ladder.
WARNERAnd I think that, you know, it's easy to look at the people who are sort of at the top and say, what good reasons do they possibly have to be anxious. But they have a lot of class and status anxiety that we may not necessarily sympathize with all that strongly, but is none the less real for them and real in their lives and drives this kind of behavior that their kids are going to slip backwards.
WARNERSo, you know, they've lived their own lives in accordance with a certain set of values. They want to pass those same values onto their kids to be on the success track. What's fascinated me particularly in recent years is thinking about whether the parents have actually achieved happiness. Do they even ask themselves those questions? Because some of these casualties who Madeline see, you know, in this clinical population let's say, well they're walking around in their 40's and 50's also, but we don't hear a whole lot about that.
NNAMDIMadeline, historically family issues or peer problems were the number one source of stress for kids but today school itself is now the number one stressor. How much of what we're doing, things like assigning four hours of homework at night, is actually counterproductive?
LEVINEWell, I think it's very counterproductive, Kojo. Can I make one point first and then answer you?
LEVINEThanks. You know, well actually, it's two things. First of all, this business of preparing kids and are we -- are Judy and I talking about lowering standards or, you know, being hippy-dippy or softies or anything like that. The reality is that the exact same skills that all 21st century business leaders are calling for fall into this category of soft skills.
LEVINESo, you know, I'm down by Silicon Valley. I get to talk to the young Turks down there all the time. And over and over they talk about a lack of collaboration, a lack of resilience, a lack of creativity, a lack of flexibility. That it's not the hard skills that kids are missing but it's exactly these kind of difficult-to-measure skills that are getting in the way of kids being successful.
LEVINESo since parents are doing all of this in the hope that their kid in this bad economy gets out of school and gets a job and doesn't, you know, end up in the basement smoking pot and playing video games for the next ten years, they're actually working against the very thing that they're trying to accomplish by sort of having this 24/7 emphasis on the metrics part and ignoring the part that business leaders are saying is going to be crucial going forward in this century. Should I just -- I...
NNAMDIGo ahead, please.
LEVINENo. I just wanted to get that in because I think it's the other side of the argument that doesn't get heard as much, which is, hey, look, it's not -- I mean, I'm a psychologist. And for me, of course, you know, mental health is critical. But it's both mental health and exactly the kind of things that parents are so very anxious about that are getting ignored. There's 24 hours in a day. If you spend all your time talking to your kid about grades and worrying about grades, you don't have time to cultivate the interpersonal and personal skills that are needed for a healthy life. But you also don't get to cultivate the skills that this flat global economy is going to demand. I just thought that was important.
NNAMDII think that is what, in a way, John in Kensington, Md. would like to talk about. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNGood morning, Kojo. Great pleasure to be with you this morning and so glad that you have this -- excuse me -- this conversation going on. I'm the author of a book on college success called "Dean's List" and in that I make an argument very much like your guests are making on the important of internal motivation. The desire that students have to learn to fulfill their own curiosity rather than their desire to please others.
JOHNGrades are basically an effort to measure how happy other people are about your education. And it seems to me that if we can, in our secondary schools, develop cultures that are much more about internal desire and less about external approval, we'll go a long way in creating a more healthy educational climate.
NNAMDIMadeline, parents often define success by, well, grades, test scores and whether a child makes it into a gifted program or that selective college. Do those mean a child is necessarily prepared for success in life?
LEVINEYou know, it depends on the child. There -- whenever I speak, Kojo, I ask my audience, which is usually, I don't know, 3 to 500 people, how many of them follow this sort of lockstep version of success? You know, do you get into the right high school and get really good grades and then get into the right college and get really good grades and get your MBA at whatever, you know, Wharton or Harvard or something and then go out and work for Goldman Sachs?
LEVINEAnd the idea is like how many people actually feel successful and have gotten there by this lockstep, you know, view of what it takes to be successful. And I got to tell you, the highest number of any audience I've ever spoken to is 4 percent. And I do it probably twice a week every week. So I think there's just this myth about earlier is better, more is better, the right schools count. You know, Yale did a study. They looked at kids who were accepted at Yale, those who went, those who ended up going to state schools. They looked at them 20 years later. Did the kids who go to Yale make more money? No. Were they happier with their jobs? No. Were they more likely to be promoted? No.
LEVINESo, you know, I don't want it in any way to sound like, you know, this is about lowering standards or anything like that. It's not. It's actually about getting kids to be able -- just like there was a great caller, John, who said life is really about your internal world, internal motivation, how you feel about yourself. And those are things that are cultivated very differently than rote learning and content.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break, but when we come back, we will continue our conversation on rethinking success for kids and parents with Judith Warner, columnist for Time.com and the author of "We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication" and "Perfect Madness: Motherhood and the Age of Anxiety." And Madeline Levine. She's a psychologist and the author of "Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success" and "The Price of Privilege."
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. How much homework do your kids have each night? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking about what success means, especially in terms of how parents and kids see it. Our guests are Judith Warner, columnist for Time.com and the author of "We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication" and "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety." And Madeline Levine. She's cofounder of Challenge Success, an education reform organization based at Stanford University. She joins us from studios in San Francisco. She is also the author of "Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success" and "The Price of Privilege."
NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850 but the lines are busy so you may want to go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. Send us a Tweet at kojoshow or email to email@example.com. Madeline, the focus on numbers that we've been talking about is something that's being blamed for the epidemic of cheating. The statistics are pretty staggering. Can you talk a little bit about that?
LEVINEYeah well, we just finished a study at Stanford on the incidents of cheating and came up with 95 percent depending -- of kids cheat and 75 percent cheat repeatedly. So, yeah, it's a big problem. I happen to have with me something a young man wrote to me about cheating and I think it's worth people hearing. He's talking about how he goes to bed after his parents, he wakes up before his parents. He has no life other than doing his homework because everyone expects him to get straight As. And the line that sort of gets to my heart is he says, "Adults expect everything from us and we're willing to give everything to them. Teachers demand we do more, learn more, faster, better and we're giving our parents and our teachers all they ask for."
LEVINEAs a developmental psychologist, first of all, this is chilling to me because you -- really what you want is a kid of this age to say, this is nuts, I'm rebelling. I don't want to do it. There is something about his compliance and he's become increasingly typical of kids I hear from that they have been brought up this way. They expect to work 24/7 and they're not rebelling against it. And just given my experience with teenagers, I don't like that.
LEVINEYou can't -- you know, there are three parts of development for kids. There's cognitive and academic development, there's personal development and there is social development. And, you know, it's like a three-legged stool. If everything like this kid writes about -- he's from New York from a prestigious high school -- if everything is focused on his academic development than he's losing -- you know, the three-legged stool gets very wobbly. You've got a big academic thing and a very wobbly sort of personal and social.
LEVINEAnd, you know, one of the other things we talked about earlier when you talked about happiness is -- I have three sons, Kojo, and I think you have a couple of grown kids too.
NNAMDIYes, I do.
LEVINERight, you do, yeah. And, you know, the advantage of getting a little older is you actually look at your kids from that viewpoint. I have three kids who are incredibly different in their skills. And I think that -- and while this may sound crabby, I actually really believe it that sure I want my kids to be happy but our bigger job is making our kids resilient. Having them be able to cope with life's inevitable challenges and disappointments.
LEVINEAnd, you know, making them happy is kind of the easier job. Like you give them stuff and you hang around. But making them resilient means tolerating mistakes, it means encouraging risk. It means doing a whole bunch of stuff that makes us anxious. And I think that's being neglected when the focus is on, I just want my kid to be happy. I really see I want my kids to be resilient.
NNAMDIJudy, it could be considered in a way another form of cheating. There've been a number of stories in the news about the overuse of so called smart drugs. Madeline mentioned Adoral. These are meant to address ADHD. Your second book "We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication" looked at this. Why is this all over the media again and what's the real issue here?
WARNERI think there are a couple of things going on with that story. I think the issue of why it's all over the media is interesting and needs to be looked at in and of itself. And I think that it brings us back -- you know, we used the word myth earlier in this program. There's a myth that these medications, which make a really big difference -- can make a really big difference in the lives of children and adults with ADHD, are powerful study aids for anybody. That they can take a mediocre student and turn him or her into a great student.
WARNERNow that just isn't true. I've sat in this studio with mental health experts in addiction who came here to spread the message that the kids generally who are using these, who are really abusing these drugs are often not very good students who have poor study skills, kind of poor self regulation in a larger sense in terms of how they use their time and who use them in this kind of compensatory way.
WARNERLike they're partying all night for, you know, one night and then up all night with Adoral the next night thinking that this gives them a meaningful leg up. It doesn't. It lets them stay up all night and that's that. It doesn't make them smarter. It doesn't make them better students. It just gives them the ability to stay awake like massive doses of caffeine would or cigarettes for another generation would've also. So there's that myth to look at.
WARNERAnd the question of why it's such a big story, why do we read about it, hear about it all the time, why are we all convinced that all kids are doing it? I really think says a lot about us as a society and says a lot about the people at the publications who keep running these stories. And I think once again it comes back to class anxiety and status anxiety. Parents are so scared that everyone else's kids are getting a leg up one way or the other, whether it's through tutoring that we can't afford or through sports coaching that we can't afford, or through some kind of clever manipulation of the rules or again, through this use of "smart pills."
WARNERAnd that feeling that everyone else is getting ahead, is getting a leg up, we're being left behind, the rules don't apply to everyone, this is such a widespread feeling and for good reason frankly when you look at the big picture of our society. And that's one thing we haven't really talked about today is the big picture and what on a larger sort of social and economic scale drives all of these behaviors.
WARNERSo there are good reasons for it but we've made too much of this one particular story of stimulant abuse. And we have to remember the word abuse in there. Again, I think it tells more about us who create these stories and consume these stories than it necessarily does about what's going on with kids on a large scale.
NNAMDIYou mentioned the big picture. Before I get to the phones, certainly a part of that big picture is what you have been implying, the feeling of competition that we as a society seem to encourage.
WARNERAnd the feeling that some people have unfair advantages, which some people do. We have a very unequal society. We do have a society where the rules don't necessarily apply equally to everyone. Look at tax policy, right. So we have this larger context where the middle class is, you know, rowing like crazy to stay afloat and a small group have pulled far, far ahead. There's a feeling that if you can just get your kid into that small group they'll be fine. they'll be safe, is the word that a mother used with me recently thinking about why she pushes her own daughter so hard, even though she knows it's wrong to be doing it.
WARNERThat feeling of safety is very elusive and very much desired. And the question is, you know, what are we losing as we go about trying to get it?
NNAMDIOn to the telephones now, here is Kathy in Gaithersburg, MD. You're on the air, Kathy. Go ahead, please.
KATHYHi, Kojo. It's nice to talk to you. I'm a mom. I have two high school students. One is a senior and yes, she does the whole AP track and the four hours of homework and all the extracurricular stuff. But she's been going on college interviews and the activities she did which seems to impress them the most and which I think she's gotten the most out of over all of her years is a creative problem solving group she's part of. It's called Destination Imagination and it emphasize teamwork and creative problem solving. And that seems to be what people are interested in.
NNAMDII'm glad you brought that up because we got an email, Kathy, from Perry in D.C. who asks, "So what do we emphasize to cultivate those other skills you speak about? If my kids are unoccupied academically or in sports all they want to do is play computers. So how do I help them become more creative, etcetera?" Madeline Levine.
LEVINEWell, I'm smiling about the media thing, the video games. It's got to be two boys who are, you know, 15 years old that are sitting there like that. So, you know, parents are always asking, my kids are playing too many video games and they're not really interested in other stuff and what do I do. And, you know, the answer's really pretty simple. It's like, you know, a kids can watch an hour of video games, unless they're particular violent, which we see correlated with an increase in violence, particularly with aggressive boys. But then you pull the plug.
LEVINEAnd, you know, parents sort of have -- when I was in training there was something called the parent child gradient. You know, like parents and kids were not on the same level. A parent kind of ran the show because they had some like experience and wisdom in addition to life experience. So I -- there are ways in which I think parents feel -- and again this is part of the bigger issue -- incredibly disempowered to act as children -- to act -- that's an interesting slip -- to act as adults.
LEVINEAnd that's partly again to Judy's point of being incredibly scared. Parents are incredibly scared that they're going to make a mistake and that it is going to disadvantage their child in some amazing way. But I think we have to sort of reclaim our role as parents. And I think one of the things you do is encourage children -- you know, there are three components to over parenting for me. Doing what your child can already do, doing what they can almost do and sort of bleeding the boundaries between your needs and theirs.
LEVINEAnd so for the kid who's not motivated I kind of feel like they need exposure -- they need support but they need exposure to a range of things. And from my point of view there's no faster way to get a child involved in something than to tell him the laundry is downstairs and needs to be folded. And usually they find something to do. You know, the more serious part of it is I think the self motivation has been knocked out of a lot of kids. You want kids to take risks. You want them to make mistakes. It's part of development and it's part of developing intrinsic motivation and resilience.
LEVINEAnd when we step in all the time for our kids and don't allow them to make mistakes. You know, you bring the homework up to school because your kid might be upset that he forgot it. We take away the opportunity for successful failures which are very important. And it's insuccessful failures that I think a lot of kids actually find things that they're interested in and can manage. And I think we're very fearful of allowing our kids to fail.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. We go now to Joyce in Leesburg, Va. Joyce, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOYCEHey, Kojo. Great show. You know, I have a freshman in high school right now and I find it interesting that from looking at parents pushing their children, you know, either to do well in some extracurricular activity or sports and then, you know, seeing that these children, you know, in the end are just going to be totally, totally uninterested in their college career because they've already had what almost substitutes for a college career in high school. I mean, that's kind of how hard they're being actually pushed.
JOYCEAnd, you know, I think at this point having been a few months into high school, I'm just really taking a step back right now and just letting my child sort of make mistakes and showing me where he wants to go rather than trying to push so hard. And I find that -- and I actually find myself -- I'm surprised about how I'm feeling right now because, you know, you don't have to get into an ivy league school or you don't have to get into a big research institution. Let your child show you where they want to go.
JOYCEI think, you know, you've got precious little time left once they start high school and I think you should enjoy the time you have with them.
NNAMDIYou know, Joyce, Judy Warner saw a big difference in how parents look at raising children when you had your first child, Judy, while living abroad. Talk a little bit about that.
WARNERWell, I had both of my children when I was living in France and I've written about that. And I've been told and have seen actually in going back -- this was -- I mean, my first child was born 15 years ago so this was a while ago -- that things have become more and more like they are here. And I've seen that too. It's become more competitive. It's become more kind of -- you know, it's interesting, it's more competitive in a way because it's democratizing at the same time. And in some way that's that same status anxiety again.
WARNERI mean, you had an elite in France that was pretty sure of being able to reproduce itself. It's opening up a little bit at least. Not as much as here but somewhat, but that means that the competition is stiffer. On a larger scale that's what's played out here too over, you know, a certain number of decades. And I think that's partly why you have so much anxiety in the upper middle class where you would think people could actually calm down.
WARNERBut I keep coming back in my mind over and over again to the question of the parents and why they do what they do and how they feel about themselves and their own success track at the fact that so many -- so few rather of the parents at Madeline's talk have followed that narrow track. I think it probably depends where you go. For example, if you're in Washington, D.C. you would find a larger percentage who had in fact followed that track. This is sort of a city of class presidents, in upper northwest at least.
WARNERAnd you'd wonder then how do they feel about it. You know, what made them feel good about themselves? What makes them feel bad about themselves? What are some of the maybe not entirely conscious thoughts that drive this behavior? Because so many parents are engaging in this competitive parent -- in this competitive behavior ad are pushing their kids in ways that rationally they know aren't good but they sort of can't stop. And I guess that's where my own area of interest has shifted lately in trying to think about some of that.
NNAMDIYou've also talked about the fact that American parents have no sense of adult time. What does that mean and how does it affect kids and parents?
WARNERI think it gets back to what Madeline was saying about boundaries and about sort of adult needs and children's needs. I think that other cultures -- France is what I know I guess and this has not changed -- there is a strong feeling that there's an adult world and a children's world and that there needs to be a distance and a difference between them that family life is anchored around the relationship between the parents. And that if that is strong and happy that the whole household will be strong and happy. And that relationship takes time and work and cultivation.
WARNERAnd I think that a lot of us in America have lost that. There's so much energy that's put into the children or that's put into the children plus work that there's virtually nothing left for the adult relationships. And all of the boundaries get kind of messy at that point.
NNAMDIMadeline, care to comment?
LEVINEYeah, I do. It strikes me, we work -- Judy has two kids, Kojo, you have three, is that right?
LEVINEI have three. You know, we work our butts off all week long and -- when our kids were younger and then we spend the weekend -- I have three boys so I spent the weekend in the bleachers passively sitting, watching a bunch of kids hit a ball, weekend after weekend, year after year. And whenever I talk to people, I always say if I had it to do over again, there is no way I would've given up every adult activity I had over that period of time to sit passively in the bleachers.
LEVINEFor several reasons, one, I think it presents our kids with a miserable view of what adulthood looks like. You know, when you're young, remember when you were, like, 13 and you couldn't wait to be 18 so you could vote or get alcohol and then when you were 18 you couldn't wait to be 21 because you had -- and kids now are constantly saying to me they have no incentive to grow up.
LEVINEWhy should they? They see their parents working like crazy and then being passive and I'd say the most common line in my office is, "I wish my mom would get a hobby besides me." I don't think we're showing kids an appealing version of adulthood. And I think that's part of what adults are supposed to do and it also keeps us involved in our own lives.
LEVINEWe should have friends, we should spend some time on our marriages, we should spend some time developing ourselves and I think all of that's gone by the wayside. And the other thing I think is that, you know, we've mentioned myths a couple of times. I think adults have this profound secret from kids, and that secret is that when you grow up you actually only have to be really good at a couple of things.
LEVINESo, here we, you know, you're good at interviewing and Judith and I write well, but let me speak for myself, the list of things that I'm, like, mediocre at is far greater than the list of things that I'm really very good at. And so when the message that we have to kids over and over again is you have to be outstanding, you know, straight A student, perfect boards, best schools.
LEVINEThat's just not the way it is out in the real world and I think we would do all our kids a service if they knew that it's, that you really have to develop a couple of areas of expertise and then when you grow up actually, if you're like me and you can't find your way around the block, you buy a GPS system.
NNAMDIThe list of things at which I am mediocre is mind-boggling, including some days even doing this. But we've got to take a short break. When we come back we will continue our conversation. If you have called, stay on the line we'll try to get to the calls. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org and ask a question or make a comment there or send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about success and rethinking what it means for kids and for parents. We're talking with Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of "Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success" and "The Price of Privilege." She's also a cofounder of Challenge Success, an education reform organization based at Stanford University.
NNAMDIJudith Warner joins us in studio. She's a columnist for time.com and the author of "We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication" and "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety." I'll go directly to the phones and we will start with Mary, in Mclean, Va. Mary, your turn.
MARYHi, I, we're in Mclean which is a rather excellent educated community and we have the opposite problem when it comes to homework. I've spoken with the administrators at the elementary school and the middle school and they said the current philosophy is not to assign homework and they kind of leave it up to the teachers but they really don't believe in homework, which is actually a penalty to my daughter who's kind of average intelligence, frankly, and she really needs some practice. She doesn't learn everything first time around. She really needs some practice and repetition so she gets left behind because they're not assigning homework.
NNAMDIWhat do you say to that, Madeline Levine?
LEVINEWell, hi Mary. You know, here's the research on homework. The research on homework really is that there is no cognitive or academic value to homework before junior high school. And so in progressive communities that are in line with what all the research is, they are trying to limit 10 minutes a grade in elementary school just to have a kid sit and then an hour and a half max in junior high school and two to two and a half hours max in high school.
LEVINEBecause there is no proven benefit, none, to anything more than that. Now, that's for children in general. And I think everything that I talk about is, you need to keep in mind, that what may be necessary for your kid may be different than what's necessary for kids in general.
LEVINEBut there hasn't been found to be a benefit to having homework or more than what I've just said and, you know, if you feel like your kid needs a little extra repetition then that may be something that you have to sort of figure out how to do at home or I would also suggest talking to the teacher, who has seen a thousand kids, you know, not just your two or three, whatever you have. And ask the teacher how to, you know, help your daughter not feel that she's being left behind.
NNAMDIMary, thank you for your call. Good luck to you.
NNAMDIHere is Charlotte, in Fredrick, Md. Hi Charlotte.
CHARLOTTEHi, this is Charlotte and thanks for taking my call, it's a great show.
CHARLOTTEI have a sort of a comment based on a personal situation that happened in my family a couple of years ago. I have a niece who was a super-powered student, on the fast track, just excelled at everything in high school. She was one of the big fish in a small pond and she got to the Ivy League college and was faced with lots and lots and lots of really, really big fish. And she wasn't the top dog anymore and she just could not cope.
CHARLOTTEAnd she was afraid to tell her parents and she was just falling apart. She got into a little bit of drug use. Finally, she had an excellent dorm resident assistant who got her some help and they finally, you know, they finally got her on a, I guess, a good emotional track. But the fact that she was so scared to tell her parents that she couldn't cope up there and then when they finally brought her home and they had the big screaming weekend and everybody was falling apart, the parents couldn't believe that their child couldn't cope at the Ivy League school.
CHARLOTTESo long story short, she ended up transferring and she ended up at a great, you know, so far so good at the new school but it was, she'd never heard the word failure in her whole life until she got to that Ivy League college.
NNAMDIJudy Warner, I'll start with you this time.
WARNERI think that no matter how educated we think we've become as a society about mental health and mental illness, how out there we think we are where things like this and that the old taboos are gone, that parents are amazingly often blind to their kids mental health needs and mental health issues and that we still don't talk about this enough.
WARNERThat there are kids who are particularly vulnerable to all the cultural pressures that we're talking about, who have these kind of innate vulnerabilities that then get worsened by certain situations. And we seem to miss that with these kind one size fits all plans for success and need to really have our eyes way more open for the early warning signs when something is going wrong with a kid.
WARNERBecause often looking back after things have gotten to a really bad point, it's possible to see that there were some warnings signs earlier on, often in high school. But unfortunately, so often these things are missed either because the parents maybe don't really want to see them. I mean, no parent wants to see or admit that something is going seriously wrong with their child. It's too painful.
WARNERMaybe because they just don't have the eyes to see it, but I think this is something we have to be way more sensitized to.
NNAMDIMadeline Levine, how important is being able to cope with failure for success?
LEVINEIt's critical and I have Demetri Martin cartoon that I've absconded with because I love it and it's called "Success" and he has one side is just a straight line up and he says, "What people think success looks like." And the other side of it is a squiggly, you know, up and down and it's says, "What success really looks like."
LEVINELike I said, I'm in Silicon Valley. There's nobody here who hasn't made money, lost money, made businesses, lost businesses and I think that's true for anybody who is successful. As you learn, that's exactly the area that you learn and call it the zone of proximal learning. It's just outside of what you can do well and I completely agree with Judy that we do a miserable job.
LEVINEI can't tell you how many schools I go to, Kojo, where there is every technological gadget known to man available to the kids and to counselors for 1,600 students. There's a story, the Dean of Freshmen at Stanford told me about, finding a girl on campus at Stanford, you know, which is sort of the height of academic achievement on the West Coast. And she can't remember were her next class is. So instead of like reaching into her backpack and taking out her schedule, she calls her mother.
LEVINEAnd while it's a tiny and small example, you know, you project that down the line. So here's a kid at the height of academic success who doesn't have the where withal to figure out, literally, how you get around the corner. And I think ultimately you add those kinds of inabilities to navigate just the challenges of everyday life together and kids get overwhelmed.
NNAMDIWhich brings me to the...
LEVINEI was just going to say the colleges are all reporting that they are overwhelmed. The state university, you know, we have a good state university out in California, has declared itself in a state of emergency because so many kids are having difficulty coping.
NNAMDIWhich brings me to the concept of duct tape parenting, parents stepping aside and letting kids figure things for themselves from time to time. How necessary, on the one hand, Judy Warner, and how difficult on the other hand, is that?
WARNERI love that expression, I never heard that before.
LEVINEThat's a book.
WARNERObviously, it's really necessary. You have to learn through failure, you have to learn resilience. It's something that some of us struggle with our whole lives. I think it's extremely difficult for parents to step back and do that for all the reasons that we've been talking about through this program. It takes a very basic level of self-confidence and of confidence in the world generally to be able to step back and say things will work. Everything's going to be okay.
WARNERUnfortunately, too many adults just don't feel that way right now. And I would say once again that, you know, there are reasons for feeling that way. So I think that if there are larger issues there are larger, sort of, socio-economic, political issues at stake here for building a world in which people can feel safer and more secure and more people could feel that. I think that once those things are in place, if we can get to a point where those things are more in place, we might see a decline in these kinds of behaviors and attitudes.
NNAMDIHere is Alan, in Rockville, Md. Alan, you're on the air, go ahead please.
ALANHi, Kojo. Hi, Madeline and Judy.
ALANI am the head of a brand-new, well actually four-year old school, independent in Rockville, Md. and we are the only school I know of that is basically heeding the call that you all are talking about today.
NNAMDIIn what way?
ALANIn every single way and a lot of ways I'd like to talk about it. The school's called School for Tomorrow and we're designed not just to serve our students but actively to be a model for others and hopefully show parents, students and the whole education world that there is a different way, a different way that leads to true success and satisfaction in the 21st century, however you define that.
ALANAnd one of these issues, I know Judy already talked about the question of why do parents do what they do even though rationally or on some level they know that it's not good for their kids. And I think because consistently they've been, this is not a nice way to put it, but sold the bill of goods by the education world and establishment over and over and over.
ALANAnd if they keep hearing the same thing over and over and over from schools and educators then it's hard to believe to the contrary. And just for those of you out there, parents I can't stress enough, please listen to these two women and what they are saying. And don't believe what you're hearing, I know people are going to say, he sounds like some sort of, let me say one more thing and then I'll answer questions.
ALANThat basically there's all kinds of research out there in the world and all kinds of people outside the education world that are spot-on about what kids need to be learning so they're prepared for the world that they're about to enter into. And the best way for kids to learn and the education world continues not to pay attention it and continues to instead, keeping telling parents that what we have to do is the same old same old.
ALANAnd the same old same old may have worked 30 or 40 years ago but the world is different. And what we are essentially doing now is we are damaging our kids for, to chase a dream that won't even exist.
NNAMDIAllow me to have both of our guests respond because we're running out of time. because what we are dealing with here, both Judy and Madeline, is a very real anxiety. This generation faces high unemployment and the very real likelihood that they won't do better than their parents. So at some level, Madeline Levine, isn't this anxiety warranted?
LEVINEIt's absolutely warranted and that's, and as Judy has made very clear, the issues behind this are much greater than anything, you know, we've been able to talk about today. But because they're social and they're psychological and why do parents have their all eggs in one basket with their kids. But, yes, it's exactly because our kids face an incredibly uncertain future that we have to attend to the kinds of skills that are needed in an uncertain future.
LEVINEAs a psychologist somebody comes to me, they're having a divorce or a financial reverse or whatever. I'm not treating them the way I would've treated somebody 25 years ago. I'm treating them the way they need to be treated currently which is how do you expand the way you think, how do you think about it differently, how do you get creative, how do you get flexible.
LEVINEWe need some new solutions here and I think, you know, this is what Alan is passionately talking about, is our schools are modeled on something that worked for the Industrial Revolution. They are not going to work for the 21st century and what it, and I'd like to expand your idea, Alan, that it's just the schools that are giving mixed messages...
NNAMDIOnly have about 30 seconds left.
LEVINEOkay. so is big business, so is Baby Einstein, so is Junior Kumon, so the multi-billion dollar industry that sells parents unnecessary things based on their anxiety. So I'm going to Judy finish it off there. That's what I have to say.
NNAMDIUnless Judy can finish it off in five seconds or less, I think you're out of time.
WARNERI would just say parents should think about what actually made them happy and what didn't and try to bring those things to their kids.
NNAMDIAnd she did it. Judith Warner for time.com and the author of "We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication and "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety." Madeline Levine is a psychologist and the author of "Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success" and "The Price of Privilege." She's also a cofounder of Challenge Success, an education reform organization based at Stanford University. Thank you both for joining us and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow on the "Politics Hour," Halloween scares and October surprises. A D.C. tax office employee is accused of ripping off the city, voter fraud scandals erupt across Virginia and online glitches trip up Maryland's voter registration. The "Politics Hour" tomorrow at noon on WAMU 88.5 and streaming at kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIAnd for listeners in Ocean City, Md. it's "Coastal Connection with Bryan Russo.
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