by Mel Levine, M.D.
Simon & Schuster (January 11, 2005)
Purchase Ready or Not
Two years ago I attended a talk given by learning-differences expert Mel Levine, M.D. I was already a fan, knowing that he was an innovative thinker when it comes to kids and how their brains work. But that day, he said one thing in particular that made an indelible impression on me (you'll pardon the paraphrasing): Parents need to prepare their children, not for Harvard, but for life.
And now, Dr. Levine has written a book on that very theme.
The trend in this country to raise our children with a focus toward which college they should attend has long rankled me. So I'm pleased that Dr. Levine is urging schools and parents instead to "prepare our kids for the tough demands of adult life," which he says is the purpose of Ready or Not, Here Life Comes. What do we need to do to counteract what Dr. Levine calls an epidemic of "work-life unreadiness"? A lot.
For starters, we must recognize the essential skill sets that children need to develop and hone — "the four I's": inner direction (self-awareness), interpretation (understanding the outside world), instrumentation (development of life tools), and interaction (interpersonal connection).
Then, to foster these skills, Dr. Levine says that schools and families may have to change their thinking about what our children need to succeed in life. Schools must emphasize critical thinking, brainstorming, self-evaluation, communications skills, and planning, not rote memorization of facts, handwriting, and spelling as be-all-end-all skills. As for parents, we need to talk to our children about adult life more than we talk to them about getting into a hot college. We need to prepare our "startup adults" for the world of work by giving them household chores, holding them responsible for homework, encouraging them to manage their time and set priorities, even teaching them how to balance a checkbook when the time is right. [See chart for Dr. Levine's recommended "home curriculum in life-skill education."]
And, odd as it may seem to some, Dr. Levine suggests that we need to stop doing everything in our power to make it easy for our child to be the smartest, biggest, best, happiest, and calmest. Instead, he says, there's a "right mix of positive and negative reinforcement" that will prepare children to stand on their own. For example, he recommends that all kids devote several hours a week to individual pursuits that affirm their uniqueness, as a counterbalance to time spent with peers.
Dr. Levine, who has always been one to avoid labeling kids, may ruffle some feathers in the AD/HD community with this book. He asserts that terms like "AD/HD" and "LD" pessimistically imply that that these "departures from the norm represent a chronic deviancy and therefore prophesy a life of abnormality." These labels, says Dr. Levine, "never take into consideration a young mind's potential." Labels oversimplify "human differences." He suggests that we assure children that learning problems don't have to last forever—that these are right-now weaknesses that can improve when worked on.
Peppered with anecdotes from young people who have struggled and succeeded in their transition to adulthood — including some diagnosed with AD/HD — this solidly researched, reader-friendly guide tells us what children need to be ready for life and work, and includes practical ideas and strategies to set a success plan into action.
Ready or not, here is reality. And I, for one, am grateful to Dr. Mel Levine for showing it to me.