When psychologist Madeline Levine's piece on "Raising Successful Children" appeared in The New York Times, it quickly became one of the most shared articles on the Internet. Levine's frank condemnation of our current culture of "overparenting" struck a nerve — and challenged us all to more closely examine the type of success we truly want for our kids.

Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success

The New York Times article, it turns out, was just the tip of the iceberg — Levine has written an entire book on the subject of raising successful kids. In Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, Levine argues that today's parents are struggling because we're trying to raise genuinely happy kids in a world that champions an extremely narrow definition of success.

Drawing upon her extensive experience as both a counselor and a parent, Levine reminds readers that our current emphasis on grades, trophies, and acceptance letters is often at odds with the true goals we have for our children.

"While we all hope our children will do well in school, we hope with even greater fervor that they will do well in life. Our job is to help them to know and appreciate themselves deeply; to approach the world with zest; to find work that is exciting and satisfying; friends and spouses who are loving and loyal; and to hold a deep belief that they have something meaningful to contribute to our society. That is what it means to teach our children well."

Why Levine's Book Is Worth Reading

Parents will appreciate Teach Your Children Well because Levine goes far beyond simply identifying the problems we face — she also offers concrete advice for how to combat the "pressure to perform" that has become so prevalent for kids today. Highlights from the book include:

  • Suggestions for helping children through the elementary school years, including how to handle friendships, teaching empathy and a sense of self, and encouraging more time for unstructured play.
     
  • Real-life examples of how to help pre-teens through middle school, with in-depth exploration of issues like bullying, body dissatisfaction, and peer pressure.
     
  • A candid discussion about teen sexuality and the high school child's increased need for autonomy, including examples of when parents need to step back and when it's time to get involved.
     
  • The do's and don'ts of helping kids develop the seven essential coping skills that Levine believes are imperative for true success as adults: self-control, self-esteem, self efficacy, enthusiasm, resilience, creativity, and a good work ethic.
     
  • Tips for parents on how to clearly define the family values we want to pass on to our children, and suggestions for how to become the parents we genuinely want to be.

The True Meaning of Success

Levine believes wholeheartedly that, despite our culture's misguided definitions of success, we can still guide our children to happy and successful lives. In fact, she concludes Teach Your Children Well with a reminder of the tremendous power and responsibility that we as parents hold:

"Children... need to be unconditionally loved, allowed to have an active and curious childhood, encouraged to challenge themselves, disciplined when necessary, and valued for the unique set of skills, interests, and capacities they bring to this world. If we can return to these essentials of healthy child development, then more than any tutor, prep class, or prestige college can do, we will have prepared our children to lead satisfying, meaningful, and authentically successful lives."

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Teach Your Children Well for the purpose of review. My children are still young, but I thoroughly enjoyed Levine's conversational style and insightful thinking, and plan to keep this book on my shelf for many years to come.