Affluenza may sound like a cold or similar sickness, but it is actually a term used to describe a more “metaphorical” illness, whereas privileged kids who grow up emotionally and developmentally isolated from their mother and father feel an intense pressure to be successful. These individuals feel this weight at school, in their social life, and with extracurriculars. And because they are under such extreme pressure, they are more likely to develop certain mental illnesses, like depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder.
“The children of the affluent are becoming increasingly troubled, reckless, and self-destructive. Perhaps we needn’t feel sorry for these ‘poor little rich kids.’ But if we don’t do something about their problems, they will become everyone’s problems.” That’s what two psychologists, Suniya S. Luthar, professor of psychology at Arizona State University, and Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore College had to say about the subject of affluenza when Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old who killed four people while driving under the influence, was given only probation for the crime after his psychologist explained that Ethan suffered from affluenza. While this ruling may seem ludicrous, it is true that affluence can put one at greater risk for developing the aforementioned illnesses (depression, anxiety, substance use disorder), which in this case led to a horrible tragedy. It may be hard to understand how growing up an affluent teen could possibly be a bad thing, but the truth is that these individuals are oftentimes miserable or unhappy with their privileged lifestyles. The fancy cars and the expensive outfits just don’t cut it.
This phenomenon isn’t well-researched, nor is it an official diagnosis. Instead, it is used to sum up issues that can develop from a teen’s privileged upbringing, characterized by wealth and fortune. Still, it’s important to note that this wealth can be damaging to the mental health of children; and it’s vital parents do their part to provide emotional support and healthy living environments. You can follow these tips to ensure your child doesn’t succumb to affluenza and instead grows up happily and healthily:
1) Just listen.
Your children should feel comfortable talking to you about a wide range of emotions. They may like or choose to keep certain things private, but they shouldn’t be scared to tell you they got a C on their math test or didn’t score at last night’s basketball game. Be an open book, all ears when they tell you they need to talk; don’t shut them out because ‘you’re too busy’ or ‘don’t want to hear it.’
2) Clear your schedule.
It’s easy to get caught up in work or feel overwhelmed by your to-do list. But you know what should be at the very top of that list, which typically isn’t? Spending time with your family. It is absolutely crucial that you spend time with your child if you have hopes of maintaining a great relationship and fostering a healthy environment for their development. Otherwise, they’ll be left feeling isolated and detached.
3) Cheer them on.
Children want their parent’s attention and approval. So, don’t just sign them up for football or dance class and then ask about it every now and then at dinner. Put in the extra effort to make it to any game that you can and emphasize how proud you are of them, even if they’re not the star player. This will make all the difference in that your child will feel loved and truly cared about. It will also encourage them to keep at the sport or extracurricular at hand.
4) Don’t isolate them.
Whatever you do, don’t isolate your child—even if their behavior has disappointed you. You’re supposed to be their guiding light, so if you abandon them in their time of need, they’re going to be lost with no sense of direction. Instead, stick by their side and show them the right way. This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t punish them for their wrongdoing, but you should do so in a productive and healthy manner—and that doesn’t involve isolation.
5) Alleviate pressure.
A big key to ensuring your child doesn’t fall victim to affluenza (other than nurturing a healthy relationship with them) is ensuring they don’t feel weighted down by intense or even unrealistic pressures. Stress the importance of trying their best—tell them that their best is always good enough. If they grow up with this cemented into their minds, they are less likely to feel the debilitating pressures affluenza is characterized by.