Does Your Child Suffer From “Affluenza” or Entitlement?

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You have probably heard the story of Ethan Couch.  If you haven’t he is the teen from Fort Worth, Texas that killed four people in a drunk driving accident and used the defense of having suffered from “affluenza”.  Essentially, his defense was that his parents were wealthy and never set boundaries with him and he didn’t know right from wrong.  There has been much controversy over his defense and whether or not his punishment or lack of was fair.  My intent is not to get into the controversy over the judge’s ruling or whether or not the ruling was fair or just.  Obviously, this is a tragedy and the victim’s families are hurting. The point of this article is to discuss this idea of “Affluenza” and regardless if I think this is a valid defense I believe this is a real issue.

From this point further I would like to call “Affluenza” what it really is. It is a sense of entitlement and entitlement is a real issue among children, adolescents, and young adults today and you don’t have to be stinking rich to have a sense of entitlement in today’s society. The definition of entitlement according to Webster’s Dictionary is as follows:

The condition of having a right to have, do or get something.  The feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).  A type of financial help provided by the government for members of a particular group.

Doesn’t this sound like many of today’s youth?  Times have changed.  My father, the oldest of ten recounts how at the age of 18-years-old he was kicked out of his parent’s home and sent on his way.  The message was we have met our obligations as parents, have raised you and now you’re on your own.  Today’s parents typically pay for college, pay for living costs way beyond the age of 18, and continue to provide support until their children are able to do so on their own.  Well, this may be fine for those children who are doing well, but for those children who are making poor choices; including using drugs and alcohol this is a combination for disaster.

There is an alcoholics anonymous saying that says “an addict or alcoholic won’t stop using until they are stopped” in other words until they hit their bottom (which for some may be very low) or the family essentially stops them with an intervention or by stopping all support or enabling.  Unfortunately, in today’s society it is too common for us to bail our kids out, in fact it is even expected.  We do it out of love.  We do it out of concern.  We do it because we ultimately want them to have the best life possible.  We think we are protecting them.

For example, we may protect our children from the impact of negative legal consequences by hiring a lawyer so they won’t have a bad record that keeps them from that job they are going to get when they finally grow up and get it together.  We pay their rent to avoid eviction because we don’t want them to suffer and be uncomfortable.  Our child, homeless?  Never!  We fight the teacher about the bad grade because the homework was unfair or the expectations too high.  We don’t want our child to miss out on getting into the best college because of a bad grade.  We call into their work for them because we don’t want them to lose their “good” job working at the restaurant.  We pay their bills for them so they don’t get that late payment and have a bad credit score for that future house we are hoping they will buy.  Oh and this entitlement or enabling (helping our children to avoid consequences) doesn’t just stop at the financial.

You don’t have to have money to have entitled kids.  Believe me I have seen families who struggle to make ends meat who have very entitled kids.  It may be that for their birthday they go over the top and what extra money they do have they use to appease their child with the newest gadget or device.  Or these parents do everything for them including enrolling in college classes, making them all their meals, doing their laundry, and caring for them when they are hung over or strung out from drugs.  Doing too much for your child when they are capable of doing for themselves is a sure way to have a child with a case of entitlement.  Entitlement happens when children get most or all of everything they want.  Both material items and the freedom to do whatever they want without any sense of responsibility or consequences for their actions.  These children experience few if any limits.  They rarely hear the answer “No”.

Children need to be told no. They need boundaries.  Adolescents, young adults, and those who are experimenting with or abusing alcohol or drugs especially need to feel the consequences of their poor choices.  Otherwise, the result is disastrous.  Without boundaries these youth or young adults will resemble the childlike middle age adults we have intervened on.  30-40 year-olds who act like immature 14-year-olds, completely dependent on their parent’s financially and expecting their parent’s to bail them out of whatever jam they get in.

A sense of entitlement is not something that develops overnight, BUT the good news is you can do something about it. If you have a child who is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction it is not too late to set boundaries with them and get them into a life of recovery where they are responsible and productive members of society.  We will help you to change this trajectory and begin a new parent child relationship.  You love your child; just don’t love them in the wrong way.  It is not too late.  Reach out and get support.  We are here to support, train, and coach you on a new way of being with your child.  This is not something easily accomplished on your own, but with the help of an unbiased and unemotional third party it can be done.

If Ethan’s parents would have used their resources to get help for Ethan before, this tragedy may have been prevented.  However, it wasn’t.  They are living with tremendous guilt I am sure.  As we tell all of the families we work with once you change your way of interacting with your child they are inevitably forced to change their behaviors as well.  Change is possible.  Don’t wait until it is too late. Do not feel shame or guilt, instead decide that you are ready for real change and take action today.

Categories: adolescent and young adult, Family Enabling
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