“Affluenza”-An Affluent Disease or Temporary Condition?

By on February 1, 2012

By Penelope Lemov –

They are a two-car family living in a comfortably affluent neighborhood. With her college-sophomore son home for the summer, a friend was sharing her car with him. Though he had been unable to get a regular job, he had cobbled together a coaching business with a friend: the two–both college-level athletes–were tutoring neighborhood kids in the fine art of hitting a baseball and kicking a soccer ball. He needed the car in the afternoon to make his business work; she needed wheels in the morning.

The timing part of sharing the car was going smoothly enough. But what got my friend ticked off was getting into the car in the morning and finding the fuel gauge on empty. Not once. Several times. She insisted her son chip in for gas–not necessarily refill the tank to its upper limits but put some gas in when the tank neared empty.

He didn’t want to. He didn’t have the money to do it, he said–even though he’d just gotten paid $20 for a coaching gig. She retaliated by setting limits on his use of the car unless he shares in the gas bill.

The gas is not the real issue. She is worried that her son, surrounded by affluent friends, is picking up a sense of entitlement–something psychologist Gary Buffone, in his book “Choking on the Silver Spoon,” describes as “expecting rewards without effort.” And Buffone takes that sense seriously. He considers it one of the traits that indicate a serious case of affluenza, which he defines as a set of symptoms “resulting from an inappropriate relationship with money or wealth.”

Such a relationship may run rampant among the 1 percent but it is also an issue within the ranks of the 99 percent. It’s there in families where pre-teen children see brand-name sneakers, iPads or the latest Wii game as a birthright and where teenagers see access to unlimited texting or the keys to the car (with full tank of gas) as an entitlement.

The problem with affluenza as an “affliction” is that it goes beyond the “spoiled brat” caricature. Some of the affluenza traits that emerge during the teen’s year are a lack of motivation and drive, a low tolerance for frustration, failure to handle money responsibly and overvaluing material things. These are, admittedly, difficult to distinguish from adolescent ennui. And most adolescents outgrown this stage and mature into responsible adults. Yet some, Buffone reports, “become stuck in the quagmire of adolescent entitlement, expecting their parents to give them everything while they coast effortlessly from one indulgence to the next. In such cases, it may take a pretty stiff jolt to catapult there perpetual teens into adulthood.”

The question for my friend is whether her son still has one foot planted in adolescent rebellion–he’s spent two years away at college and has yet to exhibit the academic drive his parents would like to see–or whether he is growing up to be a young man with full blown a case of affluenza.

A reality check on use of the car fits in with one of Buffone’s approaches to curing Silver Spoon: Give your child increasing responsibility by linking effort to reward. “The only way to break the back of entitlement is to lean on it–hard!” Buffone writes. “Parents must put relentless pressure on kids to make them earn what they get in life.”

Given the current price of gas, my friend applied no small pressure this summer.

 

As Penelope Lemov, I’m a senior editor and financial columnist for a national magazine on state and local government. I write two monthly columns on finance and tax policy, both of which are posted at Governing.comIn my more personal life, I’m known as Penny. I have one husband (of 45 years) and two grown children, both of whom have started families of their own in cities far from the family home and from each other. The grand total is four grandchildren, one grandpup and a lot of travel to visit them. Their lives and the way our lives intersect with them are the spark behind my blog, Parenting Grown Children: What Dr. Spock Forgot to Tell Us

About Penelope Lemov

As Penelope Lemov, I'm a senior editor and financial columnist for a national magazine on state and local government. I write two monthly columns on finance and tax policy, both of which are posted at Governing.com. In my more personal life, I’m known as Penny. I have one husband (of 45 years) and two grown children, both of whom have started families of their own in cities far from the family home and from each other. The grand total is four grandchildren, one grandpup and a lot of travel to visit them. Their lives and the way our lives intersect with them are the spark behind my blog, Parenting Grown Children: What Dr. Spock Forgot to Tell Us. http://www.grownchildren.net/grownup_children_project/

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“Affluenza”-An Affluent Disease or Temporary Condition?