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Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success.

Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success by Madeline Levine is probably one of the most important parenting books appeared in recent times. This book, soon after appearing on book shelves in September 2012, has become an instant success and a best seller. Madeline Levine in her seminal book has stated in no uncertain terms that traditional forms of academic success and parents' high expectations of their children are not well suited for the challenges and aspirations of future life. She has exploded the myth that good grades, high test scores, and acceptances by elite academic institutions should define the model parenting.

This extremely readable book suggests that it is the parenting style that puts competition and social status ahead of character. She cites various examples with her thirty years of clinical experience that privileged children, who are protected by family resources and opportunities, are experiencing depression, anxiety disorders, psychosomatic disorders, and substance abuse at higher rates than children from socio economically disadvantaged families who have traditionally been considered most at risk. In addition, "while these privileged children often perform well on tests, they are frequently wily but superficial and indifferent learners in spite of the congratulatory e-mails and fat acceptance envelopes many of them receive from prestigious colleges." Due to over indulgence and materialism, these types of kids are inwardly unsatisfied and empty; hence they often feel a great deal of stress, particularly at schools.

In this book, she gives practical advice for raising well rounded and successful children. According to her, and rightly so, beginning in preschool, parents and teachers push their students to obtain good grades and participate in numerous extracurricular activities, with only one motive of sending their children to prestigious colleges. In our (Palkstani) academic culture the motive of the parents is same but the mode is different. As is common knowledge that we have a dysfunctional education system whereby the academic activity in public sector colleges is non-existent due to lack of accountability and monitoring by the educational authorities. Parents prefer sending their children to coaching centres where the students are encouraged to rote-learning. Nobody realizes the damage the rote learning does to a student and that we are producing a crop of semi-literate youth without much creativity and critical thinking. Notwithstanding the grandiose promises by all mainstream political parties in their election manifestoes on education, they are not clear in their vision and appear far from the reality. The chaos and confusion will continue to persist and to bring any semblance of normalcy will remain elusive.

Today there is too much emphasis on driving children toward an often unrealistic and narrow definition of achievement. The author suggests that unconditional love, empathy, stimulating challenges, a safe environment encourage curiosity and discipline when necessary. Levine believes that all children "are capable of leading satisfying, meaningful, and authentically successful lives without accompanying stress, panic and exhaustion commonly seen in adolescents". This book is about what parents can do to change their attitudes towards parenting, rather than what parents can make their kids do. "All the kids in kindergarten are reading. My son isn't. What should I do? My twelve year daughter has three hours of homework a night and is exhausted. What should I do? My son seems content to get B's and C's in high school. He spends a lot of time with his friends outside home. What should I do?"

Strange similar type of questions I come across daily while meeting the parents of Intermediate students. Levine rightly answers these concerns by suggesting that all of these questions are driven by the same concern: if we don't get it right, our children may pay an incredible price because of our uninformed, inaccurate, or poor decisions. Answers to these questions are easy. Many children can't read in kindergarten. Three years later there is no difference in reading skills. She points out that research is clear that junior high students derive academic benefits from about an hour of homework a night, but not from more.

If a child feels disturbed and over loaded then talk to teachers and school administrators. The child deserves enough sleep otherwise he is most likely to be a less engaged learner and crabbier family member. In Pakistan, our students are most dreaded with the prospect of completing their homework. The untrained teachers, without realizing the predicament, overburden their students. In fact, homework is not given with an aim rather it is often an exercise by nonprofessional teachers as a proof of their hard work. The innocent minds spend hours aimlessly in copying down the text without any substantial gains. Levine writes that due to "misunderstanding of the basics of child development," we ignore "one of the most important contributors to children's well-being". Research has shown unstructured play to be associated with children's mastery of motor skills, social competence, attention, memory, logical thinking and reasoning, language and literacy, imagination, creativity, reflection, self-control, and ability to take others perspective.

Parent-child relationships have long and deep roots. Remember, just as our children are leaving their childhood behind so are we leaving behind years with them that seemed carefree; in contrast, adolescence seems increasingly difficult. Going by Levine's advice we should respect our individual child's talent and uniqueness and accept that he/she may not be in standardized testing. If forty years of being a teacher has taught me anything, it is that it is much easier to talk about things than to change them. Potential for change is always present. We are at that moment of change now--with our children, our education system, and our willingness to alter some of our parenting habits in order to protect our children from the worst.

Incalculable damage has already been done to our millions of school going children and no wonder that if we do not wake up from our deep slumber our children will be the sufferers and the slogan of so called change being trumpeted by media moguls and politicians will be a mere slogan and plain rhetoric. In this debate blame must be placed on the system because parents are only doing what rotten system demands from them. They too certainly would want their children to thrive from the system. However, parents need to be more careful as their children are at risk and to secure a bright future and a prominent place in society for their children they themselves have to act with caution.

Teach Your Children Well is a highly readable book which should be taken seriously by parents, educators and general readers who are interested in the wellbeing of our future generations. In her insightful advice, "our 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 prestigious college can do, we will have prepared our children to lead satisfying, meaningful, and authentically successful lives.

by Madeline Levine, PhD

Harper Collins Publishers

Book Review by Cdr. (Retd.) Najeeb Anjum

Cdr. (Retd.) Najeeb Anjum is an educationist and a freelance contributor. Currently, he is the Principal, Sir Adamjee Institute, Karachi
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Comment:Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success.
Author:Anjum, Najeeb
Publication:Economic Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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