By Debby Shulman
What happens when we offer our teens a little too much in the way of amenities? Fancy cars for their 16th birthday, fabulous and expensive vacations to exotic beaches, mountains and jungles, closets filled with designer clothes and boots from upscale stores, and an attitude that entitles them to all of it?
You have a teen with a really bad case of Affluenza.
The latest infection to hit the Mean Streets of Suburbia and the upper class, Affluenza strikes ONLY when it’s time to be held accountable for actions committed ‘under the influence’ of this insidious virus.
Don’t like that grade because you think your teacher is mean? Have Mom and Dad duke it out for you. Want special privileges at Disney World so you don’t have to wait in line? Secure a fake ‘pity pass’ so you can join the legitimately developmentally delayed and enjoy your rides one after another. Affluenza seems to be catching … passed down to lonely teenagers whose parents are unable to discipline because it takes too much effort. We know this deceptively competitive disposition takes years to cultivate but once that Petri dish shows signs of life: BAM. You have a full-blown case of Affluenza. After all, when Mom and Dad have been raised to believe that money buys everything, they can’t be bothered with actual child rearing; they must dispense credit cards without limits and indulge their little one with every materialistic accoutrement so that junior does not feel lonely or sad.
I think Veruca Salt from “Willy Wonka” was the first recognized case of Affluenza and we all know what happened to her. Damn, she was a bad egg.
So when a Texas teen claimed he was NOT responsible for the death of four people due to a severe case of Affluenza, people perked up.
Simply put, Affluenza affects those offspring who have not been held accountable for anything their entire lives due to misguided, horrific, and indulgent parenting.
They refuse to accept responsibility for bad behavior claiming they truly do not know any better. The judge in this case, bought it – and sentenced the poor little guy to rehab (private of course, costing Mommy and Daddy $450,000 a year) and a wee bit of community service. That’ll teach him a lesson he won’t soon forget. So when our criminal justice system seems to have suffered a judicial lobotomy, how do we explain that? How do we raise our teens to understand that while they may be so fortunate to travel and experience luxuries many won’t see in a lifetime, they must understand deeply that their happiness remains grounded in what their life would be like WITHOUT THESE ADDED EXTRAS.
The symptoms of Affluenza seem to be more emotional than physical: sullen, angry and presumptuous behavior, disrespect and disregard for those in a position of power, and an egomaniacal attitude that engulfs the afflicted in feelings of superiority that extend beyond anyone in his path. I need a bath just writing this.
There isn’t a vaccine for this one, either, but rather a swift kick in the ass (as my Dad used to say) might be the ticket.
Sadly, however, we know plenty of teens suffering the ills of Affluenza and nobody is going to do anything but get out of their path of self-destruction. In a selfish way, their demise serves as yet another one of my pointed finger, elaborately dramatic lectures at someone else’s expense.
The unimaginable depression that must consume the Texas teen who selfishly and carelessly killed four innocent people must lie so deep it will take more than rehab to find his soul. What remains obvious is that those inflicted with Affluenza blame society for their ills. Pity the parent who must buy their child’s love with their American Express Platinum credit card and with that ironic purchase, create a vacant and hollow impression of what real love looks like.
The infinite perils of Affluenza affect every chunk of a teen’s devastated ego. Like the villain in so many teen movies, the one without the caring parents gets it in the end. So how many more incidents will occur that offer another example of how many disengaged parents desperately forgo good judgment in lieu of not dealing with a teen who requires serious parenting? And what does it say to our teens when someone in a position of authority (albeit elected) chooses to acknowledge the nonsensical and morally outrageous argument that ‘Affluenza’ sounds reasonable considering his indulgent upbringing?
If we are going to be blessed enough to give our children experiences that we never had, vacations in far off lands and educations at expensive schools, then we owe them the lesson that accompanies all of it. Recognize that it is offered with love, not in place of it. Recognize that these incredible experiences must be received with gratitude and quiet humility and be conscious of your good fortune so that you may always pay it forward.
That poor boy in Texas is headed for far worse than the slap on the wrist he received for involuntary manslaughter. Let’s hope his conscience gets the best of him before his parents do.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois. Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice.