The Price of Privilege

How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids

In this ground-breaking book on the children of affluence, a well-known clinical psychologist exposes the epidemic of emotional problems that are disabling America’s privileged youth, thanks, in large part, to normalized, intrusive parenting that stunts the crucial development of the self.

Madeline Levine has been a practicing psychologist for twenty-five years, but it was only recently that she began to observe a new breed of unhappy teenager. When a bright, personable fifteen-year-old girl, from a loving and financially comfortable family, came into her office with the word empty carved into her left forearm, Levine was startled. This girl and her message seemed to embody a disturbing pattern Levine had been observing. Her teenage patients were bright, socially skilled, and loved by their affluent parents. But behind a veneer of achievement and charm, many of these teens suffered severe emotional problems. What was going on?

Conversations with educators and clinicians across the country as well as meticulous research confirmed Levine’s suspicions that something was terribly amiss. Numerous studies show that privileged adolescents are experiencing epidemic rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse — rates that are higher than those of any other socioeconomic group of young people in this country. The various elements of a perfect storm — materialism, pressure to achieve, perfectionism, disconnection — are combining to create a crisis in America’s culture of affluence. This culture is as unmanageable for parents — mothers in particular — as it is for their children. While many privileged kids project confidence and know how to make a good impression, alarming numbers lack the basic foundation of psychological development: an authentic sense of self. Even parents often miss the signs of significant emotional problems in their “star” children.

In this controversial look at privileged families, Levine offers thoughtful, practical advice as she explodes one child-rearing myth after another. With empathy and candor, she identifies parenting practices that are toxic to healthy self-development and that have contributed to epidemic levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse in the most unlikely place — the affluent family.


[Written] with clarity and understanding of the culture of affluence and its pitfalls for parents.

Library Journal

Fresh and important ideas about parenting in the age of affluence…

Mary Pipher, Ph.D., author of Reviving Ophelia

Useful…clear, sensitive…

Publisher’s Weekly

In this insightful book, Levine eschews the temptation to dismiss problems of privileged teens as overindulgence.

Book List

Levine offers chapter after chapter of practical advice for dealing with family problems.

Connecticut Post Online

Her writing is warm and carefully thoughtful.

Toronto Star

This book has resonated in affluent communities all over the country. [Levine is] clearly on to something.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Madeline Levine’s book…offer[s] real hope and help to families suffering from the stress of success…She offers solid, proactive strategies for becoming a more connected, relaxed parent.

Chicago Tribune

…an impassioned wake-up call to parents…

The Gazette (Montreal)

Levine’s book explores some troubling and intriguing issues that certainly are worth pondering and discussing.

Marin Independent Journal

[Madeline Levine’s] ideas may be uncomfortable for parents to read, but they’re a wonderful wake-up call.

Bay Area Insider

The frenzy of academic competition, particularly among affluent American families, has triggered a spate of cautionary new books. The titles reviewed here are all excellent: I give them all A+’s—or, in the parlance of today’s elite high schoolers, weighted GPAs of 4.687, including 5’s in fifteen AP courses and a combined math/verbal SAT score of 1540.

Of course, I’m a biased reader; in my estimation, there can’t be enough books written on the topic. I say, let’s hurl them, one by one, at today’s frenzied “helicopter parents,” who deserve to be, if not bombarded, at least given a simple clonk over the head with a frying pan while a trained therapist yells, “Stop the insanity!”

The phrase poor little rich kid is generally uttered with disdain by those who’ve had to struggle in life about those with more material and social advantages who nonetheless often manage to be miserable. Levine, a practicing clinical psychologist with 20 years of experience treating troubled children and adolescents, makes the case that our society cannot afford to trivialize the “mental health crisis” among the children of the affluent. In her private practice, she has encountered many children and teens from wealthy backgrounds who have no conception of self and as a result feel empty. Writing with clarity and understanding of the culture of affluence and its pitfalls for parents, the author reminds readers of the universal needs of children, privileged or not, for connection and discipline from parents and defines the meaning of those terms. Well-organized chapters help parents understand how to take the time and show the patience to help their children realize their potential, sometimes in spite of the “advantages” their comfortable lifestyles might offer them. A good choice for parenting collections in libraries with clients in the middle to upper socioeconomic ranges.

Library Journal (Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.)

Recent studies have shown that 22 percent of upper-middle-class adolescent girls (three times the national rate) suffer from clinical depression–a stark illustration of the old saw that money doesn’t buy happiness. Psychologist Levine draws on clinical research, hundreds of case studies, and 25 years of treating troubled adolescents from well-to-do families to explore the rise in mental and emotional disorders among privileged youth. Levine offers portraits of adolescents from homes of parental involvement and material advantage in which the children nonetheless suffer from addictions, anxiety and eating disorders, depression, and self-destructive behavior. Levine makes the case for why these young people are as much “at risk” as those from lower economic backgrounds and how the culture of affluence can stifle self-development. She offers advice on effective techniques to reduce pressure from parents to succeed in school and to heighten adolescent autonomy and self-discipline. In this insightful book, Levine eschews the temptation to dismiss problems of privileged teens as overindulgence.

Vanessa Bush, Booklist (Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.)

A practicing psychologist in Marin County, Calif., Levine counsels troubled teens from affluent families, and finds it paradoxical that wealth—which can open the door to travel and other enriching opportunities—can produce such depressed, anxious, angry and bored teenagers. After comparing notes with colleagues, she concluded that consumerism too often substitutes for the sorts of struggles that produce thoughtful, happy people. If objects satisfy people, then they never get around to working on deeper issues. The teen years are supposed to be a time for character building. Avoiding this hard work with the distraction of consumer toys can produce “vacant,” “evacuated” or “disconnected” teens, Levine believes. She is particularly useful when explaining common parenting dilemmas, like the difference between being intrusive and being involved, between laying down rules and encouraging autonomy. Alas, while Levine pitches to the educated moms, since they do much of the actual child-rearing, she may be preaching to the choir. Those who need her most may be too busy shopping to pick up such a dire-looking volume. Still, school guidance counselors should be happy to have this clear, sensitive volume on their bookshelves.

Publishers Weekly (Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.)