noun | af·flu·en·za | \ˌa-(ˌ)flü-ˈen-zə\
Merriam-Webster defines “affluenza” as follows: a) Feelings of guilt, lack of motivation, and social isolation experienced by wealthy people. b) Extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships.
I didn’t hear of the term “affluenza” until 16-year old Ethan Couch used an affluenza defense in his 2013 drunk-driving trial. He killed four and seriously injured 2 in Burleson, Texas. He and his mother have been in the news lately for fleeing to Mexico, being hunted and then returned to the United States.
Having three teenagers of my own, this case naturally caught my attention. I found Couch’s argument ridiculous and simply an attempt to avoid taking responsibility.
But what about my own kids? They are growing up in an affluent neighborhood, attending private school and don’t have any financial concerns. How could I, as their father, do my best to protect them from contracting this disease called “affluenza”? Was I even sure that they didn’t suffer from it already?
As you can see from the definition above, affluenza is not contained to teenagers, but can affect people regardless of their age. A 40-year old workaholic who is just focused on accumulating wealth could also suffer affluenza. Although there is no guarantee that you will be able to inoculate your kids, let me give you a few suggestions that just might set the right foundation for their teen and adult years:
- Be a role model: Kids watch their parents: how they live, how they spend their money, what they focus on and how they spend their time. Are they seeing that their parent(s) is interested only in material possessions? Do they treat people the same, regardless of what economic class they come from?
- Delayed gratification: Whether it’s saving up to buy a used car, a new iPhone, clothing or Steph Curry basketball shoes, delayed gratification is a lost and dying art. Adults and kids are interested in immediate gratification, “I want it now”. Credit cards help us meet this desire of “now”, but it is a slipper slope. So the question is: do you role-model delayed gratification for your kids or are you just as caught up in the consumerism as they are?
- Saving: Do your children see that their parents are living below their means and putting money aside for the future? If not, then the chances are very slim that they will have a healthy attitude toward spending, saving and living within their means.
- Giving: Does all the money you possess and earn belong only to you? Is it intended for your own consumption and gratification or do you give to worthy causes such as church, non-profits or charities? If not, your kids will surely pick up that you lack a generous and giving heart. Why should they be any different?
- Volunteering: It’s pretty easy to write a check to help a good cause but giving up a Saturday morning to feed the homeless, minister at a prison or support a Special Olympics event takes real commitment, especially because it might take you out of your comfort zone. Do your kids see you volunteering your time? Do you serve any organizations together as a family?
- Time: How do your kids, how do you spend your free time? How many hours are consumed watching mindless TV shows or playing video games? Time is a precious asset that we can’t hang on to. Show your kids that you don’t waste time. Encourage them to go outside and play… and join them!
- Education: Not all kids are good students but all students should give their best. Are your kids motivated to do well in school? Do they know the opportunities that come with a good education? If your child is not trying hard then there probably need to be some consequences. My suggestion: take away their cell phone for a day or two. That will surely get their attention and help them focus.
- Know their friends: You need to know whom your child is hanging out with. Encourage your child to invite their friends to your home and then spend time getting to know them.. And, if a kid is a bad influence on your child, let your child know that they can’t hang out with them any more. Your child won’t appreciate this “interference” into his private life, but who cares. Be the parent to your child, not their best friend
- Communication: Finally, and probably most importantly, maintain open and continuous communication with your child(ren). Some teens won’t speak much, but you can be sure, they are listening. Talk about the points that I have outlined above. Be open and share your own mistakes and struggles.
Our culture is promoting affluenza amongst our kids. We need to do all we can to protect our them, help them to make wise choices and live a life full of meaning and purpose.