You’ve worked hard your entire adult life to provide for your family and build wealth. Now that you have achieved financial success, you notice that your children, grandchildren, or other family members seem unappreciative and are perhaps exhibiting symptoms of affluenza. Here are three key things you need to know about affluenza, and the potential impact of privilege, in order to recognize and cope with it in your family:
What is affluenza?
The term “affluenza” came into the popular lexicon a few years ago when Texas teen Ethan Couch killed four people in a drunk driving accident and his attorneys argued that his sentence should be reduced because growing up with financial privilege made Couch unable to understand the consequences of his actions. If someone is experiencing affluenza they place an unhealthy emphasis on money and material possessions, perhaps engaging in risky spending and debt in order to “keep up with the Joneses.” Affluenza also connotes a basic lack of empathy, a feeling of being entitled to special treatment because of one’s financial status, and a lack of true inner peace or joy.
While affluenza is not a recognized mental disorder at this time, it can share characteristics with disorders including Narcissistic Personality Disorder and addiction. Here are the major symptoms of affluenza to look out for in your family members:
Shopping addiction: The need to constantly buy more stuff even though you don’t actually need anything. If your teenager has a closet full of clothes with the tags still on them but always charges new shopping sprees to your credit card, for example, she may be suffering from the consequences of affluenza. Sometimes when someone feels emptiness inside or a lack of purpose, they can gain a brief burst of pleasure from buying more stuff and spending money.
Over-emphasis on labels: If someone is displaying affluenza symptoms, they will care more about showing off wealth or perceived wealth than actual life experiences or relationships. This means always needing to have the right designer clothes and bags, the newest Range Rover instead of a more modest car, and an Instagram feed bursting with status symbols. There is a price of privilege.
Lack of empathy for others: Perhaps the most serious side effect of affluenza is when growing up with privilege and a lack of hard work or consequences erodes any natural feelings of empathy. Those who suffer from affluenza tell themselves they are better than everyone and if someone is facing difficulties it must be because they are inferior.
What you can do
If any of these affluenza symptoms are ringing true for you and your family, it’s time to take action. Here are specific steps you can take to counteract affluenza in your family:
Take an honest look at your own actions. Do you place too much emphasis on gaining wealth and material possessions? Your children, grandchildren, and even your spouse look to your example, even when you’re unaware of it.
Set the precedent that everyone has to earn their keep. Just because you can spoil your children doesn’t mean you should. High schoolers and college students can work part-time jobs and save their own spending money. Younger children can earn allowances through chores and good grades. If your spouse isn’t traditionally employed, encourage them to volunteer, take classes, and actively manage the household. This dynamic will help your family members feel an innate sense of pride and value so they don’t need to turn to material possessions to fill them up.
Now that you know the definition, affluenza can be identified and counteracted in your own family. Your goal should be to continue building wealth without encouraging your kids and other members of your family to grow spoiled or entitled.