• The High Cost of Affluenza

    By: Carol Maxym, PhD.

    This is third post of a three part blog series on Affluenza.  If you’ve been following the headlines, you may have noticed that Affluenza is a hot topic in the mainstream.

    Affluenza is the unhealthy psychological and social effects of affluence. This condition is characterized by feelings of guilt, lack of motivation, and social isolationism. Affluenza can result in chronic unhappiness, debt, overwork, stress, and poor relationships.

    Before we delve further into this topic, let me preface it with this disclaimer: I am not a socialist. I have no problem whatsoever with people having money—even lots and lots of it.  I have no problem with people, even kids having things.  However, that doesn’t mean that having more things is helpful for teens developing character and integrity. The same applies to the world in general.  Quantity does not always equal quality.

    Affluenza isn’t a problem about having money. It’s the associated personal ethic, familial, and community values or the absence of those values that creates the problem. Affluenza isn’t an official DSM disorder, but its non-inclusion is irrelevant. It’s irrelevant because the attitudes producing Affluenza are a part of the real world. It’s important that Affluenza isn’t recognized as the problem that it is and that its symptoms are often mistaken as [pseudo] disorders.

    What is Affluenza?

    It’s when having money becomes an identity and releases people from responsibility. It’s when one defines oneself and others by their possessions instead of by their character. It’s particularly dangerous when kids associate their parents’ wealth as the defining feature of their identities.   Affluenza is a lack of an individuated self, a moral conscience, and a belief system based on real and meaningful values.  Sadly, when kids catch Affluenza, they are usually infected by their parents, their peers, advertising, and the media .  Again, the problem isn’t the having of wealth, it is the attitudes produced by having wealth.

    In the United States, we have a long history of some of the country’s wealthiest families being dedicated public servants and philanthropists.  Where is that tradition now?

    It seems that Affluenza is a contemporary problem. In the past, there was the expectation that wealth implied social responsibility. Today, that appears to be less the case than with previous generations.

    However, while Affluenza may be more prevalent today, it still existed in the past. It’s best reflected in 19th century novels such as Mansfield Park and David Copperfield.

    I do feel sorry for the kids with advanced Affluenza.  They have been so sheltered from reality that they cannot comprehend it.  They’re taught to equate their personal value with what they own. How sad for a child to imagine that his or her identity is based on a phone he or she uses, and the labels and brands he or she wears. How tragic for a child to feel that he or she special because of things she or he owns instead of realizing that he or she is part of a family, a community, or a nation.

    So what can you do about a child infected with Affluenza?  

    1.  Notice.

    2.  Don’t engage in conversations about the coolness of objects.

    3.  Refer to shoes as shoes not as a brand (same for all items of clothing and electronics).

    4.  Teach cause-effect and accountability.

    5.  Demand responsibility and accountability.

    6.  Don’t allow yourself to become manipulated.

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