A mother and a daughter.

In her new book, Marin psychologist and author Madeline Levine exposes the pitfalls of over-parenting, and argues for a new definition of success and achievement. She joins us in the studio to share her advice for raising healthy and happy kids. How do you define success for your child?

In her new book Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success,  Marin psychologist and author Madeline Levine exposes the pitfalls of over-parenting, and argues for a new definition of success and achievement.

Levine uses the term "authentic success" to differentiate success as it is traditionally viewed: titles, money, good grades, and prestigious schools. In the forward to her book, Levine writes that parents also need to encourage kids 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 society."

Levine joined host Dave Iverson in studio to discuss her book. We've created a list of  tips based on that interview.

1. Remember the Basics

According to Levine, research shows that "the four most important factors in parenting are reliability, consistency, stability and non-interference." She says that most people don't argue with the first three but that she receives push back on the last one — non-interference. Levine says learning from mistakes (the kind that occur when parents don't interfere) is an important skill — one that employers say too many young workers lack.


2. Build a Good Foundation

"We've all become these decorators as opposed to construction workers. What kids really need is not the right curtains i.e. the right schools, the right grades, but they need a strong foundation. So many parents are busy paying attention to the decorative aspect of their child."


3. Spend Time with Your Kids

Research shows that eating dinner with your kids is a good habit to maintain. But many parents over-think it. When asked about eating dinner with her own kids, Levine says "It wasn't brilliant, deep conversation with three boys every night about how they felt about things, not by a long shot." What mattered was that she spent time with them.

Levine says to emphasize play time, down time, and family time, or P.D.F.

"It's in that quiet space that you actually get to know who your child is and that's your primary job as a parent." And don't worry if progess is slow going. Levine says "Getting to know your child is a quiet, long process."


4. Help Your Child Develop an Internal Definition of Success

Levine says that both parents and children need to shift from an external, performance-oriented version of success to an internal version that embraces "real curiosity about learning and how the child experiences things."

Instead of equating a high grade with effort and intelligence and a low grade with a lack thereof, switch to questions like 'Did you learn anything new on the test?' or 'What was the test like for you?'"

Encourage children "to go inside and evaluate for themselves. At the end of the day that's what I think authentic [success] means," says Levine.


5. Let Kids Fail

According to Levine, letting kids fail is "one of the most critical things" parents can do. She encourages parents to remember how often toddlers fall when they're learning to walk.

"That's the model in life, for how kids master things. If we swooped in at the first stumble, a child wouldn't learn how to walk. She walks because she fails over and over and over again with our continued encouragement and presence."


6. Concentrate on Your Child's Strengths

"When you grow up you only have to be really, really good at one or two things. This idea of being good at everything, straight A's, building water treatment plants in the Sudan and being the captain of the lacrosse team is so unrealistic."

"We spend so much time with tutors or worrying about a kid who has difficulty in one field as oppose to concentrating on their strengths."


7. Don't Drown Your Kids in Praise

Levine emphasized that one of the most important things parents can do for their children is to hold back the praise — that's correct, you shouldn't constantly tell your children that they are great.

"We seem to be under the impression that you can graft self-esteem onto your children if you just tell them enough how special they are. The reality is that self-esteem comes out of competence. How do you get confident about something? You get better at it."

Levine explains that telling children they're good at something builds pressure and expectations and that  the possibility of not meeting those expectations works against kids.

"The risk for the child then becomes very great."

Madeline Levine: Parenting for Authentic Success 7 August,2012forum

Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of the new book "Teach Your Children Well: Parenting For Authentic Success"

  • Ayn Marx 666

    Wouldn’t it be better if parents didn’t have the justified fear that we will allow their children to fall into penury and misery in this rich country if they’re not hyper-successful?  

    In a winner-take-all society there is no crime worse than being a ‘loser’.

  • Cindy in Oakland

    Like it or not (& I don’t), our society has evolved over the past 3 decades to a point where if you’re in the top 1%, you win and you win BIG.   If you’re not, good luck.    It’s all nice and fuzzy to say “let’s develop balanced kids”, but the cold hard unfortunate reality is that “wonderfully balanced” doesn’t pay the bills….and it doesn’t get you into Harvard.

    • That’s just not factually accurate. Sure, some people will be poor, but the majority of Americans lives lives of abundance. Not everyone is going to be as rich as Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, but living in America does give you plenty of opportunities. Even many people living in the bottom quintile are quite wealthy compared to the middle-class of 50 years ago.

  • REB

    While I agree we are over parenting, what can a parent do if the school and society expect our kids to over achieve? I can ignore PowerSchool, but the school my kids go to expect parents to monitor our children.

  • Steve in Sacramento

    Dave & Dr. Levine: Having recently returned from a trip through India and China, I find this discussion tone-deaf.   

    The extraordinary focus and energy that children are dedicating to their education in areas such as Delhi, Bangalore and Shanghai is remarkable.   

    30 years ago, our kids were competing against other Americans.  Now they’re competing against the world.   And the world is moving fast.  That’s just a fact.  I may not like it.   You may not like it.   But that doesn’t change the reality.

  • Aaron

    I feel like these comments about “the world is moving fast” and “balanced doesn’t get you into Harvard” are very tricky. They are clearly true on a factual level. And yet they seem to assume a zero-sum game wherein balance and internal well-being come at the expense of tangible skills.

    Is it so hard to imagine a child learning in the classroom or excelling in athletics while also being compassionate, resilient, independent and intrinsically motivated? I’ll admit that’s a best case scenario. But why must we assume this dichotomous mindset? 

  • Aaron

    Also, does the Forum audience equate “paying the bills” with making at least $250,000 annually?

  • Susan

    I was one of those children who grew up with parents telling me how wonderful I was, who had (and continues to have) very low self esteem. What does Ms. Levine recommend for adults who are still struggling with confidence issues? How do we reverse this process? 

  • Chertok Kirsch

    How does a parent help shy and introverted kids compete in a world that is geared toward rewarding the highly social extrovert?

  • Antonio (Millbrae)

    I called my wife so she can pay attention to Ms Levine but couldn’t talk to her becaise my three kids were whinning and she had to hung up

  • Guest

    Interesting program as always.  I am curious as to whether Dr. Levine has advice for grown children (e.g. in their 20’s) who have left their parents’ home.  Is there a way for both kids and their parents to work toward a sense of authenticity and resilience as Dr. Levine has described at this stage in life?  Does the responsibility lie mostly with the children at this stage to develop these characteristics on their own?

  • Hkherndon

    I agree with what Madeline Levine is saying, but it is difficult as a parent of an eight-year-old to let her fail sometimes.  Often, I realize after the fact that it has more to do with my own insecurities than her development. This is so disappointing.  I wonder how much the upper-middle class focus on getting into the best schools, always getting the best grades and such is based on parental insecurity, or lack of confidence in our own children. 

  • Jwcate

    Two years ago, we took our then 9-yr old daughter to live in Paris, sending her to a public school. Two weeks after the start of school, the entire 4th grade class went on a field trip to the countryside 300 miles away. 25 kids took the train across France with 1 teacher and 1 assistant. They spent 10 days away from home, with no phone calls, no email, no daily Facebook updates, just a note pinned to the front door of the school every couple of days. Contrast that with a US school field trip: multiple parent chaperones, daily web postings, anxious phone calls to the teacher. While I am not a huge fan of the French educational system, I have to ask how can we develop confidence and self esteem when we constantly hover over our kids and never let go of the tether. 

  • I think people seriously overestimate the effect of a failed homework or low class grade. My whole childhood, my parents told me repeatedly what is catechism: get good grades, never fail, etc… I didn’t do that. I had a fair share of Fs, zeros and even visits to the principal’s office. Today, I have a good job that I love that puts me in the top 20% of income earners, on a steady upward trajectory both in terms of my job becoming more enjoyable and more financially rewarding as well as my life just becoming better and better overall and I’m just in my mid-20s. How did I do it? Lots of soft skills. I learn plenty of my own, know how to deal with people around me, know how to identify my own limitations and address them.

    EDIT: I realize this is just an N of 1. But I think the anecdote is illustrative of the fact that there is no need to be an overachiever in school to have a good life.

    • Mrsjhenson

      At school, my sister and I were model students and did well. But over the years I have come to believe that  the most successful, and certainly the most creative, people, are  those who do NOT excel at school. School success requires being a round peg. By its very nature, independence of thought makes playing the round peg very difficult. (Except, perhaps, for those destined for academia.) I loved school, but  with age, I rather regret that I was such a good little girl and lacked  the courage and  the desire to challenge authority.

  • Hmc1

    I am enjoying this discussion very much. Thank you.  I did private tutoring for the SAT and had to deal with many outer-success focused parents.  I began referring to these parents as “show-dog parents.”  As you Dr. Levine stated earlier, they were focused on the ribbons their children brought home and how it reflected on them, the parents. I felt sorry for these children who at times were so tired they struggled to stay awake or focused during our sessions.  Thank you for your insights on this topic.

  • Laura

    I think we need to encourage our kids to try lots of things while they are growing up. If your kids are not that good at something but they love doing it, stay out of it!  We are raising kids who learn to tests and only do things they can put on their college applications. My advice experiment, open up your heart and learn to love life.

  • Morrie Bradshaw

    Any thoughts on what if the child is the one really focus on the external factors? My son is always focused on how many pts. he scored compared to his teammates, what grades he’s getting compared to his class, even a simple game of monopoly becomes an all out competition on who has the most this and that.

    What’s the best way to shift the attitude towards having more fun, enjoying the game rather the outcome?

  • Earth

    I believe in your doctrine Madeline, and hope I am behaving this way as a parent of an 11 year old. So many of the decisions we make daily regarding the upbringing of our children are intuitive or common sense.  Why are parents today looking for an answer for each question regarding their children?
    I am referring, as an example, to the question regarding bringing a daily homework exercise versus a final presentation to the school. This is a good example of a “life” lesson versus “I got your back”.  I hope we don’t need a book for this.

  • peninsulaparent

    My two oldest children are enrolled in an academically rigorous private middle school on the Peninsula.  There are many things we love about the school – a smaller community than our public school option, high quality teaching, a focus on collaborative work amongst the students, etc.  However, most of these elite private schools seem to equate – I believe wrongly – the amount of homework with the level of academic rigor.  2-3 hours per night is the norm, which leaves little room for family time and socializing with peers, let along sleep!  Does Dr. Levine have any tips on how to negotiate this issue with school administrators?

  • Cjaknk

    Can you speak to parenting the atypical kid? As the parent of 2, one with Down syndrome and one with a learning disability, every toy was a therapeutic tool, everything enriching. Both my kids required more oversight than I or my siblings ever did.

  • andrea

    My friends and I all agree that we did not grow up with hours of homework in grade school, over structured childhoods, or full day preschool at the age of 2, and we all turened out just fine – we are happy, healty and balanced. I hope my child will experience the same.

  • Hgalloway

    “My parents must be micromanaging or doing everything to ensure my success because they don’t believe I am capable of doing it well enough myself. TELLING me how smart I am means nothing. TRUST in my smarts. Don’t you think I am smart enough to ask for help if I need it?”

  • Fiammetta

    the usual very felt compliment for the program and this subject in particular.
    I’m Italian and I have a 26 years old daughter, raised in the US school system, and my mother has been a teacher all her life in Italy – this is a context for my experience and comment.
    I remember when my daughter was in school that my constant impression was that there was what I would call an ‘antagonism’ between the two sides: school and parent, much like the ‘schizophrenia’ between work schedules and school schedules. 
    from the very early age the stress on self reliance, do not ask for help, don’t let your parents help you … and as much as I love the self reliance  I found myself at time thinking “don’t you know that we are on the same side? don’t you know that it is a team work?” and the one in the middle without really the skills to handle the tension between the 2 sides are the children.

  • LR

    Please talk about healthy boundaries.  If every person were taught to respect boundaries, then we would know how to “be” in the world

  • Rb

    I think the Dr. is out of touch, as many children in underperforming districts, generally those with a high proportion of children of color, are at a disadvantage to start and have to do better than 1 grade level year of learning per year, just to reach basic graduation standards and must learn to do more to succeed in life.  I also take offense to the Marin Drs. comment about her kids running around like a bunch of “wild Indians”- point made.  

  • Jessalyn Aaland

    As an author who has written a book on how class privilege can negatively affect adolescents, I find it very disappointing that Dr. Levine has failed to address her own racial privilege. The comment about her kids “running around like wild Indians” is extremely offensive. Indigenous Americans are not “savages”. By using such language (and by Dave Iverson’s failure to address it), you reinforce negative stereotypes about American Indians and continue to disenfranchise people of color and others who see NPR/KQED as a bastion of white liberalism.

    • JRRW

       Curious which book you wrote on class privilege.

      • Missjessalyn

        Sorry I meant to indicate that Dr. Levine has written one, titled The Price of Privilege.

        • Mano

          I do not find wild as a necessarily negative adjective, Furthermore, she speaks of wild Indians, which let space for not wild ones. It’s like saying wild pioneers vs just pioneers, or wild drunk Irishmen vs drunk Irishmen 🙂

    • Markus

      Jessalyn, I completely agree with you.  While the author made some very valid points, as a person of color and one with african and “indian” heritage, I was very surprised to hear the comment “wild indians” and the deafening silence as no one addressed it.  The host should have politely corrected her.  Of all places, KQED should be sensitive to this.  We still live in a world were we can say “wild indians” and not get called on it.  Worst yet coming from someone who should know better.  Imagine if she said her kids were “running around like wild africans”.  Somehow offensive language to First Nations (indian) people seem to still be allowed.        

  • Katie Button

    My 20-year-old son, who has very mild Asperger’s Syndrome, has his own learning style: in his own way, in his own time. Because of this, we home-schooled him for grades 1-3. I found the most effective way to teach him was to follow him around, see what he was interested in, and provide opportunities to expand on what he was teaching himself. By 4th grade, we felt he needed more face time with other kids, so he went to school for grades 4-12. Anxiety around homework, etc. was legion. Now that he is out of school, not ready for college, can’t find a job, I feel like we’re doing home-school college. He’s sloooowly moving toward adulthood, on his own initiative taking private art lessons, writing a blog on computer games, learning German on-line, and learning to drive. From the outside, it looks like he’s sitting in his room in front of the computer all day. Most of his friends live out of town on-line. If I’ve learned anything from him, it’s that if I push him too hard, it’s game over. His anxiety causes him to retreat and shut down. We’re just waiting for him to grow up at this point. We’ve done well on giving him reliability and stability, I think, but where is the line on non-interference when you see your kid just treading water?

  • Gecontento

    I teach at a independent college prep school here in the Bay Area, and I intentionally give about 10-15 minutes of homework. What’s ALWAYS left out in the discussion about homework is that some kids are driven to do MUCH more than what we teachers are even asking. I had one student whose mother was bitterly complaining about the amount of homework that I was giving; and the child had a 97.8% average in the class! Another student at the end of the year wanted to know if her A was a “high A” or “low A.” Another point is that many students take the option of taking honors classes and then they complain that it’s too much work, too stressful. (“Everyone wants to go to heaven – and no one wants to die.”) If some students/families are insisting on maintaining near perfection, of COURSE, these students will experience stress. As a teacher, other than trying to lend some perspective, I’m not sure what else I can do. Much of the stress that I see that students experience is family- or self-imposed.

  • Lecks

    Off the topic at hand…let’s note the completely “racist” term used in reference to her children running around playing “like WILD INDIANS”….? Really. Appreciate the forum, but strange at how comfortable it was for that to be uttered at all (intentional or not). Just a side note.  ON AIR APOLOGY seems appropriate. 

  • CP

    I only had a chance to listen to maybe the first 20 minutes. Looking forward to hearing the rest.

    Seems like the focus of the discussion has gotten overshadowed by a comment the author made. Can’t imagine being on live radio. Tough crowd. At least from the little bit I heard she was speaking unrehearsed/scripted like that robotic Chevron PR person in the last hour of Forum.

    I’m all for finding the middle ground between the extremes of “no discipline” and “helicopter” parenting styles. Children that can think for themselves and act with reasonable judgement sounds like a good goal to have.

    • CP

       At least from the little bit I heard she was speaking unrehearsed/UNscripted UNlike that robotic Chevron PR person in the last hour of Forum.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    There are many well adjusted kids from families who don’t see Harvard as the end all place to go to college.  And there is a reason the better universities are seeking out homeschooled students, because they haven’t been over parented but are great self learners, and have goals they want rather than what someone else says they must do. They are also life, world smart and not just book or test taking smart!  And there are a lot if introverts working in high tech. Where most people fail before they succeed.

  • Cathrine Steinborn

    I agree with Dr. Levine. The parents I know don’t let their kids make their own mistakes, and learn from their failures. My approach has been to help when asked, but limit my school involvement to engaging my kids in interesting discussions about books, science, current events etc. Making my thoughts transparent, discussing choices and the risks and benefits of the options I hope will help my kids be more resourceful. My kids know my favorite phrases are “work it out yourself with your teacher” and ” A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”.
    The fact is that the world is full of people who make a difference in the world who weren’t top students. Drive, flexibility and the ability to negotiate with those around you are more important than that 4.0. 

  • GUEST1

    As I hear my colleagues speak in detail about their 20 something children’s lives, I often wonder if I’m under-parenting my own 20 somethings. As they were growing up I felt guilty because I did not do what the “good” parents did. Thanks to this discussion and to the fact that my kids ARE not depending on me to make decisions, or pay the rent, I feel vindicated. Still, I tell my colleagues it was nothing I did, my children’s achievements are their own.

    As to Madeline Levine’s description of her children running around “like wild Indians” I think it was unfortunate. An apology would be kind but listeners have to get a grip. Our language stems from a cultural and class burden we bear. In this country of diversity, we have to be sensitive both ways and keep in mind the speaker’s intent. I am a member of a minority group, my family having arrived in America, penniless. I would not have been able to achieve my happiness had I taken offense at every non-PC comment I heard.

    • Markus

      Respectfully, Ms. Levine should know better than to use the term “wild indians” and the host should have politely addressed it.  Correcting careless speech on a nationally broadcasted program is not being PC, it’s simply trying elevate the discussion.  As a person of color with indian heritage, I can still be happy and enjoy the authors presentation while pointing out that she should not use the term “wild indians”.  I would further state that “The Price of Privilege” (as her book is titled) should include a bit of “spare change” of respect for the generations of native people who have been labeled “wild”, etc. and suffered tremendous injustices due to being seen as “wild”, “savage” etc…  Just my two cents.    

  • KP

    How tiresome that some people seem to need to interject their thin skinned umbrage into a completely unrelated discussion.  The use of the phrase “wild indians” obviously comes from a ’50’s era upbringing when the term was ubiquitous and never intended as a slur toward native americans.  Lighten up people, there is enough REAL prejudice and injustice in the world..

    • Markus

      Respectfully, whatever the intention, the term “wild indians” is offensive particularly coming from someone who should simply know better.  Do we still live in the ’50’s or are we moving forward?  In any discussion, it is up to those listening to point out and correct hurtful speech, whatever the intention of the speaker. If you knew the history of 1st nations (indian) people, I hope you would also find the term “wild indians” offensive.
      You say “Lighten up”?  I suggest you learn how the term “wild indians” is directly linked to a long history of horrific suffering by 1st nations people, as they were deemed “wild” and without souls.  This legacy is still being dealt with in many 1st nations communities.  The same holds true for enslaved africans brought to the americas.  Both people were seen as “wild” animals without souls and to be treated as such.   Less than human.  There are volumes written on this.  You seem to think, as you put it, “REAL prejudice” is somehow detached from this kind of speech.  Nothing can be further from the truth and if we don’t address terms like this when they are used casually, we miss out on growing as a society.  Do we want to teach our children that 1st nations people are wild, like beasts in the wood?  Or do we want our children to know that 1st nations people have rich, deep, and complex cultures that stretch back many many generations?Would it be okay if she said (add any stereotype) …… blacks?, or ……… jews?or……..mexicans?   Should we just sit back and not say anything because she has a “’50’s era” upbringing” or because we don’t want to “interject” into the discussion of how to best raise children? What if a native child was listening to this program?  After being taught by 1st nations educators to be proud of their rich cultural heritage and that they are anything but wild, should they just “lighten up” to the term “wild indians”?  Or perhaps this was a radio program 1st nations people shouldn’t listen to?  This is a completely relevant point of contention and not an “unrelated interjection”, especially when we are looking for the best way to raise young people.  To long have the voices of 1st nations people been silenced.  It does seem to be the ’50’s.  Perhaps the 1850’s.   How sad that such a gifted educator would use such careless language.  How sad that we should be to told to “lighten up”.      I sincerely hope that you can understand how hurtful it is to hear the term “wild indians” being used on KQED.   Ms. Levine’s intention was to use the term “wild indians” as a simple descriptive, but is is still wrong.  It is very telling how “wild indians” is still so entrenched in our psyches that it can be used so casually by a talented educator and psychologist. What are we truly teaching our children when we can’t understand the hurtful nature of careless speech? 

  • Sy2502

    I feel genuinely sad for kids today. I grew up at the time where parents raised kids with “benign neglect”, I played outside with other kids without supervision, and wasn’t told I was special. Not only those were the best years of my life, but I learned self reliance, independence, and I developed my imagination. Now I see young people enter the work force with the worst self entitlement, a much over-inflated opinion of themselves, and as they said in the program, scarce resilience. These are folks who break down and cry at work because after a scarce 6 months in the company, they didn’t get a promotion and the corner office. 

    I am saddened to see parents oblivious to the long term damage they are causing these children. Parenting went from raising future adults to indulging the parent’s ego, and living vicariously through the children. Yes good parenting is hard. Yes giving your kids space and independence is hard. But whoever told you being a parent was supposed to be easy? 

  • Madeline Levine

    This is Madeline Levine.  I’ve read the comments of people upset by my use an insensitive description of my kids.  I’m truly sorry and apologize to those who felt injured by the comment.  And thanks for helping me raise my own consciousness.

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