• Affluenza Back in the Headlines

    By: Carol Maxym, PhD.

    Affluenza is back in the news.  Why?  Because, I think, almost everyone finds Affluenza deeply offensive. As a whole, we’re offended by the idea that a person could break the law in so many ways without being held accountable. However, not having learned responsibility is hardly a defense for shirking consequences.

    But here’s my question:  How far does lack of accountability have to go to become totally and utterly repugnant?

    There really can be little doubt that Affluenza exists.  I must admit to being surprised by the brashness of using Affluenza as a legal defense in the Ethan Couch case—and to be clear, the defense lawyer claims that was not the defense.  Rather, the concept was introduced during sentencing.  I won’t comment on the legal part because that far exceeds my experience. I will say that Affluenza may be an explanation of why/how this young man could do what he did.  However, under no circumstances will I accept Affluenza as a valid excuse.  Nor would I accept it as a valid excuse or explanation for any crime committed.  Ever.

    It’s the duty of parents to teach accountability.  It is the duty of schools, athletics, other extracurricular activities to teach accountability through experience.  It is the duty of children to learn it.  It is the duty of responsible citizens to be accountable for their actions.  Period.

    None of the following are acceptable excuses for not learning accountability:  ADD, ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, or Bipolar disorder.  The only excuse I would accept would be an extreme intellectual handicap.

    In this instance of Evan Couch, the young man was sentenced to attend a therapeutic program—in Newport Beach, CA.  The program is purported to have cost $450K per year.  H’mmm.  A year ago I wrote, “I’m not just sure how treating Affluenza with more of it is going to work out.  How will this young man learn about the world about which he appears to be clueless in as rarefied an environment as this?”  Well, I guess we have the answer.  It is the one anyone would have predicted.

    I do know a thing or two about adolescent treatment programs since I’ve been working in the field for nearly a quarter century.  Let me state unequivocally that no program earns $450K in a year.  There is absolutely no way that there can be that much valuable treatment. The high cost is based largely upon a luxurious and exclusive environment and perhaps helping parents not to feel guilty about putting their child into a program.

    I can appreciate that there might be a greater likelihood of this young man coming out of a treatment program with more remorse and accountability than a 20-year prison sentence.  However, I’m skeptical at $450K/year?  Could someone please tell me how treating the condition with more of  what caused it in the first place will be therapeutic?  I just don’t get it.  I guarantee that for 20% of that cost this young man could be put in a highly therapeutic environment  where he could learn above all, how to become accountable, responsible person.

    And then I wonder what will happen to this young man if/when he wakes up to realize what he has done (and this is just the one thing we know about).  How will he live with himself?  That’s what frightens me.  I hope his treatment program will be sensitive to this danger, all the while recognizing that his treatment should be more focused on character development.  Given the events  of the last few weeks, I suppose there is little danger of this young man actually, really realizing what he did.

    But then what about his parents?  Will they receive ‘treatment’?  Not wishing to absolve the young man of one iota of his own responsibility (and let us remember it does begin with theft), what about his parents?  Does your blood boil the way mine does?

    Ok.  I admit. I am glad his mother is in prison.  Such parenting does deserve the recognition it is getting.

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