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Coping With "Affluenza"

Privileged children have problems just like everyone else.

Privileged children have problems just like everyone else.

Problems only rich kids have: overcoming “affluenza”. While the rest of us struggle to teach our kids that they can’t have everything, the rich are working to raise healthy kids who aren’t overwhelmed by the fact that they can.

I’d like to play the world’s smallest violin for these families, but it’s a real problem. Just look at Paris Hilton. Wealthy kids can find themselves hooked on drugs, struggling with relationships and unable to establish a career, just like their poorer cousins. In some cases, their money may be to blame.

At least, that’s what wealth manager  turned author James D’Amico thinks. He’s self-published a book about this issue, called “The Affluenza Antidote.” Does affluenza really need an antidote, though? Or are some kids in every social class just going to fall apart? Maybe it’s not that money causes these kids’ probelms. Maybe it’s just that money can’t always solve them.

D’Amico’s prescription for helping rich kids cope with their existential angst is pretty simple: spend time together as a family, have clear expectations, make kids responsible for success at school and chores at home, be a good role model. It’s the same toolkit that helps kids from any economic background grow into grounded, responsible adults.

With wealthy families, it’s presumably easier to pull this off. You have more control over where you live, where your child attends school and how you spend your time. When I was a kid, we moved a lot for my mom’s job. We had our rented apartment sold out from under us. We had one choice for schools: the public one in the cheap neighborhood we could afford.

Being affluent, or even middle-class, lets you control more of those factors. I’m far from wealthy myself, but I’m much better off financially than my mother was raising me and my sister. I’m sure my relative affluence lets me provide a more grounded childhood to my kids.

It seems plausible to me that among the wealthy, the ability to buy your way out of most problems makes shoddy parenting stand out even more. You can’t blame a family’s problems on bad luck or limited resources as easily. At the same time, I suspect that some number of kids will just have problems anywhere. Learning disabilities and mental health problems don’t discriminate by social class. Substance abuse is an issue at posh private schools just like it is at my local public school.

While I think this author is offering great advice for raising kids well, I don’t think he’s persuaded me that “affluenza” exists. Of course some well-off kids will grow up to have trouble getting their lives together. That doesn’t make them victims of their own privilege, that just makes them privileged kids with problems money can’t solve.

Now back to worrying about those real problems that afflict all kids, but disproportionately affect those with less means. Like health issues, divorce, drugs and academic trouble.

Photo: soelin

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