I just read this great piece by Judith Warner about $10,000 summer camps and overbearing, can’t-let-go parents who send their kids there. Some of these camps employ parent liaisons, whose job is to basically be a concierge and deal with parent requests, or more likely demands (e.g. check that my kids have put on their sunscreen today.) Judith Warner uses the camp example to talk about affluenza, a social phenomenon where one’s self-esteem is closely tied to what one is able to get. The study of affluenza mentioned in Ms. Warner’s article defines it in the following way:
Affluenza can be defined as the dysfunctional relationship between the acquisition of wealth and other sources of self-esteem…. Americans earn three times as much as they did 30 years ago, technology has opened a world of resources to children, and parents are working in excess to provide opportunities exposing our children to the â€œgood life.â€ Yet a generation has emerged where adolescent psychological problems are escalating and teen suicides have doubled.
When I first read this I felt a sense of relief — this is a rich people problem and since we’re not rich, or anywhere near rich, we don’t have to worry. But the study makes a specific point to say that while yes, wealthier parents and kids are likely more susceptible to having affluenza, it’s more about one’s attitude than actual wealth and can therefore affect everyone, regardless of income. It’s a sense of entitlement and of not having to work hard to achieve your goals, both which overbearing parents reinforce when they make sure that everything a child wants or might want is taken care of.
I grew up in the former Soviet Union, where no one had money, no one (except for a few elite politicians) was entitled to anything, and where the constant theme that was reinforced in school was about hard work. After we immigrated to America we lived on welfare and built our life here from scratch, purely through hard work. I feel comfortable saying that nobody in my family ever feels entitled.
But I worry about my daughter. While we’re not rich, we live comfortably and are surrounded by people who live comfortably and some who are wealthy. My husband and I are both extremely focused on raising our daughter to not be spoiled — we don’t buy lots of toys or clothes, don’t indulge her every whim, are beginning to involve her in chores, and will be sending her to public school next year. We try to be extremely respectful to her teachers and anyone we deal with together, so that she learns from us and never feels like she can order people around.
But I still worry. She has more toys than I ever had, we don’t lack for anything, and as she grows up, she will see how comfortable her life is. I know that as parents we can influence a lot in terms of her work ethic and understanding values in life, but as she gets older, so can her friends, some of whom will be coming from wealthy, extremely comfortable upbringings.
Do you worry about spoiling your kids? Are there certain things you do to make sure it doesn’t happen?