In page 16 in this issue, you will find an essay by Marsha Levy-Warren ’73 about parenting. It’s not a typical PAW article, yet it surely is relevant to the lives of more Princeton alumni than almost any other story we could feature in our pages.
The idea for this essay was planted during Reunions 2003, when Levy-Warren — a psychologist in New York who has served as a University trustee — participated in an alumni-faculty forum called “Childhood Achievement: Are We Burning Out Our Kids?” (Levy-Warren, who in 1973 became the first woman to win the Pyne Prize, the University’s highest general undergraduate honor, has some personal experience with adolescent and college-age achievement.) The room was jammed with people of all generations: young alumni with infants in strollers by their sides; anxious parents of high-school kids; and older alumni, no doubt wondering about the lives and futures of their grandchildren.
Levy-Warren was not the only speaker — her co-panelists included educators at competitive private secondary schools and a staff member at the Baby Einstein Co., which sells educational videos and other products for babies and toddlers — and the group stitched together a somewhat troubling picture of childhood and adolescence today. The viewpoint of Levy-Warren, who works with young people in her professional practice and is an expert on adolescence, was especially striking, as she starkly sketched the effects of parental expectations, time demands, and academic and extracurricular pressures facing teens and even young children.
I attended that forum not as PAW editor, but as mother to a 5-year-old girl, now 6, whose childhood already seems a departure from the one I remember — when the favored after-school activity was riding your bike to a friend’s house for an afternoon of hanging out, when it was impossible to have a high-school GPA of more than 4.0, and when even the clumsiest third-grader could not get cut from a sports league.
Because kindergarten is no longer just fun and games, my sweet first-grader is a far better reader than I was at her age, and she knows much more math and science. She knows many other things I never understood at 6, such as which of the clothes in her closet are in style and which she must never, ever wear, lest she face ribbing from more fashionable classmates. Though her teacher’s grading system consists of stickers, stars, and smiley faces, my daughter already asks about grades and the possibility of failure.
At the Reunions panel, alumni asked thoughtful, personal questions suggesting that though they want to prepare their children for the competitive adult world ahead, they sensed something unnerving on the road to places like Princeton. Levy-Warren provides insights into making that journey easier – and accepting that it may end somewhere else entirely.