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Prime Time: Flourishing After 60, a new book, is designed to help the huge and sophisticated Baby-Boomer market enjoy the present and later half of their lives. In Prime Time, psychologist, Diane S. Schaupp, encourages this sophisticated market to start examining their lives, capitalize on their personal strengths, and go about implementing changes and coping strategies to help them achieve new goals and respond to the changes of the later years. She inspires readers to view aging and the changes that come with it in a positive light, to be proactive instead of reactive, and to master the quality of personal adaptability which makes us more resilient and responsive to life changes and crises.

Gender Roles, Self-Actualization and Marital Adjustment

In a Psychology Honors Program at Montclair State University, I examined the impact of gender-role socialization on long-term marriages.  Marriages with partners who rated high levels of both nurturance (considered to be feminine attributes) and assertiveness (considered to be masculine attributes) reported higher marital satisfaction.
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Career Development

My dissertation examined gender differences in variables related to career satisfaction i.e., career expectations, career motivation and gender role socialization.
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Pressures and Challenges of Adolescents in Affluent Communities
What Has The Media Uncovered?

In November 2004, the New York Times Magazine section was dedicated to “The Ever More Carefully Arranged, Artfully Blueprinted, Technologically Devised, and Painstakingly Organized American Childhood.” One article in the magazine using sports as a focus described how parents of affluence focus their child’s development of excellence and perfection in an area which often leaves a child deficient in other areas. For instance, perfecting a good swing with a baseball bat does not make a good runner or a good team player. And, if a child is playing over 100 games a season – what about the emotional needs of this child.

Better Homes and Gardens ran an article in 2004 on the impact of overloading our kids. The article suggested ways to help these children reclaim time to relax. According to this article, learning to say, “No,” to certain activities helps kids win back the free time they need to be more creative. Speaking on parental limit setting, Newsweek’s cover story on September 13, 2004 was about “How to say “No” to Your Kids (Setting Limits in an Age of Excess). The article notes that a growing number of psychologists are warning of the dangers of overindulgence and the importance of learning how and where to draw the line. The following alarming statistics were described: 53% of kids say buying certain products makes them feel better about themselves, 75% of parents say their kids do fewer chores than children did 10 or 15 years ago, and 73% of parents say today’s kids are too focused on buying and material things. A warning is issued: “Kids who get too much too soon often have trouble coping with the inevitable ups and downs of life.”

Psychologist Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., has a similar warning in her book, The Blessings of a Skinned Knee (2001). Dr. Mogel warns that creating a world where everything will be perfect creates children who will never be able to cope with adversity because it robs them of learning how to deal with a life that isn’t perfect. According to Time Magazine (January 24, 2005) cover story entitled, “They Just Won’t Grow Up”, these excesses have been practiced for a while. The article discusses how many young adults who were accustomed to overprotection and over-indulgence bounce from job to job and mate to mate and live off of their parents.

The good news is that since the late 1990s when the concerns about children in affluent communities began to be identified by the media, improvements have been noted. For instance, family dinners, which have a long history of how families relax together, was cited as on the decline due to over-scheduling of activities, parental work schedules, etc. The New York Times (April 5, 2006) reports that this decline has bottomed out or even begun to turn around. According to the article, a random nationwide survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found a recent rise in the number of children ages 12 – 17 who said they ate dinner with their families at least five times a week. The percentage rose to 58% last year from 47% in 1998. The Columbia center showed that compared with teenagers who have five or more family dinners a week, those who have two or less are three times as likely to try marijuana, two and a half times as likely to smoke cigarettes and one and a half times more likely to try alcohol.

More good news. Although more teenagers are using computers and other electronic devises, the New York Times (October 25, 2005) reported that many parents are limiting screen time, checking their children’s web-surfing histories, and using filters to block objectionable material. These same parents, however, worry that their children’s social skills may be withering away.

David Levy, a University of Washington professor (cited in the New York Times article) who studied high-tech communications and quality of life, acknowledges that the young have become adept at managing multiple sources of information at once, but he questions whether the ability to multi-task has curbed their “ability to focus on a single thing, the ability to be silent and still inside, basically the ability to be unplugged and content.”

What is a gifted child? Does money buy a gifted child? Is it the child with a perfect swing of the baseball bat or golf club? According to Alice Miller, all children are gifted because they all have special gifts, talents and emotional needs. These gifts and needs can only be developed by parents who are responsive to the inner emotional life of their children. Are affluent parents responding appropriately to their children’s emotional needs? The answer is no, according to Madeline Levine, author of The Price of Privilege.

According to Dr. Levine: "It was 6:15 p.m. Friday when I closed the door behind my last unhappy teenage patient of the week. I slumped into my well-worn chair feeling depleted and surprisingly close to tears. The 15-year-old girl who had just left my office was bright, personable, highly pressured by her adoring, but frequently preoccupied, affluent parents, and very angry. She had used a razor to incise the word EMPTY on her left forearm, showing it to me when I commented on her typical cutter disguise – a long-sleeve T-shirt pulled halfway over her hand, with an opening torn in the cuff for her thumb. I tried to imagine how intensely unhappy my young patient must have felt to cut her distress into her flesh. "

What is the scientific literature saying? As might be expected, most studies have focused on children and adolescents living in low-income areas due to the obvious stress associated with poverty. Less is known about affluent children and adolescents because they have been seen as similar to the already sufficiently studied middle-class majority, or it has been assumed that growing up with wealth means growing up with privilege and that therefore their lives must be relatively free of stress (Luthar, 2003). According to Soniya S. Luthar, a developmental and clinical scientist at Columbia, and her colleagues who have conducted the bulk of research in this area, this is not the case.

Affluent adolescents report higher levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse (Luthar & Becker, 2005). In one study, high-income, suburban high school students reported significantly higher use of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and hard drugs, and significantly higher rates of anxiety and depression compared to a sample of inner-city youth. One in five suburban girls reported clinically significant depressive symptoms. This is three times greater than rates of depression in a general normative sample (Luthar & D’Avanzo, 1999, as cited in Luthar & Latendresse, 2005). Furthermore, symptoms of anxiety and depression are linked with substance abuse which might suggest that adolescents are attempting to self-medicate (Luthar and Associates, Bogard, 2005 in review).

Dan Kindlon’s (2001), author of Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Kids of Character in an Indulgent Age, gathered data on 654 public suburban and private high school students from affluent communities across the United States. Questionnaires were then mailed to 1,078 parents who had children between the ages of four and nineteen. Kindlon identified characteristics of his sample that were correlated with each of the seven deadly sins. These were: self-centeredness (pride), anger (wrath), driven (envy), or not motivated (sloth), eating problems (gluttony), self-control problems (lust), and being spoiled (greed). He reported that only 12% of the teens were asymptomatic (i.e., no significant anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, weren’t mean, lazy, self-centered or spoiled). The factors that differentiated these 12% from the majority were: 1) expectations that their room was clean (which was interpreted as parental expectations for their children being responsible); 2) Dad was regularly home for dinner (interpreted as father involvement); 3) from an intact family; 4) no phone in their rooms (24-hour per day contact with peers is negative); and 5) they regularly did community service.

In general, affluent parents tended to give too much and expect too little from their children. Overall, Kindlon suggested that parents can be emotionally close to their children while also setting limits and boundaries in order to teach their children values and morals and build good character. Timlin-Scalara, Ponterotto, Blumberg and Jackson (2003) from my graduate program at Fordham University, found that affluent male adolescents tended not to seek professional psychological help because it would be viewed as a form of weakness or failure to themselves and to their family. The wealthy community culture set very high standards for success. Needing to succeed not only academically, but socially and athletically, creates suffocating pressures for adolescents. Males experienced the pressures of academic success more intensely due to the traditional belief that the man should be able to financially support his family. There was also tremendous pressure on male athletes to “do well and uphold the town’s superior image” (2003, p. 344). Those adolescents felt that they could not turn to professionals for help, particularly school counselors who they would need to write them letters of recommendation for college.

An additional claim has been made that participation in too many activities or “overscheduling” is causing distress in this population. Luthar and her colleagues found that it wasn’t the number of extracurricular activities but perceived parent criticism that was linked to anxiety, thus illustrating the important role that parental attitudes have on their children’s adjustment (Luthar, Shoum, & Brown, 2006).

If affluent people do overvalue financial success relative to other populations, this might also be an important factor to consider when looking at causes of affluent adolescent distress. Research has linked focusing on financial success to reduced well-being. In a set of studies, college students who valued wealth over other values were less well-adjusted and had more behavioral disorders (Kasser & Ryan, 1993).

Most research in this area is dependent on self-reports of symptoms and perception of parental attitudes from this population of young people, although some of the studies take into account teacher observations of classroom behavior and grades (Luthar, Shoum, & Brown, 2006). Our study (with Dr. Keitel and Dr. Kopala) approaches the issue from a different angle by taking into account the perspectives of parents, grandparents, and teachers to further understand the experience of young people in affluent communities. We are doing in-depth interviews with 15 mothers and 15 grandmothers of middle and high schoolers living in affluent communities, and 15 teachers who have taught for at least 15 years in affluent communities for a total of 45 participants. The results of the study will be reported in late 2007

Presented at the Quidance Expo,
White Plains, New York on October 16, 2006

 

 

 
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