In 2006, Madeline Levine published The Price of Privilege. As a psychotherapist in Marin County working with troubled teens, she opened a window for us into the lives of children from affluent, well-educated families. Levine tells the stories of how well-intentioned parents do two very destructive things that have a dramatic impact on their children’s development: They overprotect their children from perceived danger, pain and discomfort, and at the same time they micro-manage the activities of their children’s lives.
 
With wisdom and insight, Levine describes the profound impact of this double whammy... how overprotecting weakens children’s core, depriving them of developing the internal strength and coping skills that will ultimately protect them when they leave the nest; and how micro-managing - often in the form of over-scheduling imagined college-application enhancing activities - deprives them of self-directed exploration and discovery that can short-circuit self-knowledge. In short, children who are over-protected and micro-managed are at risk of diminished life skills and an obscured sense of self.
 
What, you might ask, does this have to do with blueberries?
 
In 2006, the same year The Price of Privilege was published, there was another soon-to-be bestseller on the shelves: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In that book, Pollan traces the lifecycle of four meals. Famously, Pollan documents his week at Polyface Farm where every movement is useful and there is no such thing as waste. Although the story of Polyface Farm forever altered my relationship with food systems, and was the seed for what has become The Home Grown Institute, it was a paragraph on page 295 about blueberries that inspired my thinking about their connection with teenagers.
 
Pollan reported on the findings that organically grown blueberries have a higher antioxidant level than blueberries grown “conventionally.” Antioxidants, it seems, are actually part of the immune system of the blueberry bush and have been shown to benefit our immune systems as well. Chemical pesticides applied to blueberries act as a kind of over-protection and the result is that the plant loses its motivation to create it own internal strength to cope with pests. Similarly, conventional NPK fertilizer micro-manages the plants environment - feeding nitrogen (N) to make it green, potassium (P) to make its roots grow, and phosphorus (K) to help it flower - so we can get plants that grow fast and look good. But this NPK formula neglects the importance of all the other activities going on in the soil - microbes, bacteria, fungi, trace minerals - that are essential for the blueberry to grow strong and healthy. In short, blueberry bushes that are over-protected and micro-managed lack internal strength and fail to reach their highest potential.
 
Supporting local organic farmers has become a habit and I don’t think twice about buying organic blueberries. The parenting shift is a little harder. My son, a rising high school sophomore, petitioned for a summer with minimal structure and one of his plans is to go with friends to New York City. I’ve reined in my impulse to find some cool community service project for him to do, and I take a deep breath as he heads off for the Bolt Bus, knowing that he is on his way to becoming a strong “specimen” of who he is meant to be.
 
 
What Do Blueberries and Teenagers Have In Common?
Sunday, July 15, 2012