Immunizing Your Child Against Affluenza

Raise your kids to be empathetic, not entitled. You know these kids. You’ve seen them at school, on the playground, at birthday parties and sporting events. They’re spoiled, ungrateful, self‐centered, demanding, and lack interest in or empathy for others.

Immunizing Your Child Against AffluenzaI have strong feelings about entitled kids and their parents: They make me nuts!

You know these kids. You’ve seen them at school, on the playground, at birthday parties and sporting events. They’re spoiled, ungrateful, self‐centered, demanding, and lack interest in or empathy for others. You know these parents. They treat their children like the world revolves them, never setting limits, giving them their heart’s desire, and always letting them have their own way. They’re also likely to give their children “things” to compensate for feelings of guilt.

These families are most commonly found in affluent communities—hence the term “affluenza,” which has been coined to describe the condition of children raised without discipline or consequences, who allegedly can no longer tell right from wrong. The most egregious example is Texas teen Ethan Couch, who killed four people while driving drunk and used the affluenza defense at his trial. Though Couch was convicted of the crime, the judge let him off with 10 years’ probation—which Couch violated when he and his mother absconded to Mexico, where they were recently arrested.

You don’t have to be rich, though, to be susceptible to the corrosive effects of affluenza. So how can we immunize our kids against this insidious condition, in order to bring out children’s most thoughtful and empathetic qualities and prevent raising a generation of spoiled, entitled adults? Here are some tips for parents.

Learn how to say no—and mean it.

You cannot give your kids everything they want. Period. Teaching your children the meaning of No at an early age lets them know that you mean business. But while it sounds simple, it’s more difficult to put into practice than you’d imagine. Who can resist the pleading eyes of a preschooler, or withstand the screaming fits of a thwarted three‐year‐old? This is where the rubber meets the road. Being consistent is the hardest—and the most crucial—element of saying no. If you waffle or give in half the time, you teach your children that all they need to do is keep begging and they’ve got a good shot at getting what they want. On the other hand, if you say no to everything, you run a different risk: that of demoralized, disaffected kids who no longer listen to you. The secret is to find the healthy balance.

Set limits. Give consequences.

This is, believe it or not, the most loving thing a parent can do for a child. Children actually feel safer and more secure when they know where the boundaries are. And don’t underestimate the power of teaching children that there are consequences for their actions. Sally left her homework on the kitchen table and gets a point taken off? She’ll probably be more careful with her homework the next morning (but not if you drive the homework over to school to “help her out”). Jason played ball in the house despite your strict instructions, and broke a lamp? Having him earn the money for a new one will demonstrate the importance of taking responsibility for your misdeeds. Sure, all kids will make mistakes from time to time, but the real value of making mistakes will be that those mistakes will provide teachable moments of epic proportions!

Teach children the things that have real value.

Nowadays, many children grow up believing that life is about acquiring money and material possessions. It doesn’t have to be that way! Even young children can learn family values such as doing your best, providing services for those who are less fortunate, working hard, and showing appreciation for what they do have. Thinking beyond themselves and their own needs teaches kids to be empathetic, and empathy is one of the most important emotional intelligence skills a child can learn. These children are not only happier than their affluenza‐ addled peers, they’re also more likely to be successful in school and in life.

Best of all, if we impart these powerful messages when our children are young, think what a generous and livable society they’ll create when they are adults!