How to Make Sure Your Kids Don't Get Affluenza

Teaching kids the value of non-material things in a gimme world

affluenza - girl getting allowance from dad
One way to curb affluenza and not spoil kids is to have kids do chores and earn an allowance. Image Source/Getty Images

There's been a lot of discussion in the past couple of decades about "affluenza," a term coined from a mash-up of the words "affluence" and "influenza." Affluenza has been defined as a "socially-transmitted" or "contagious" condition in which people feel unfulfilled, overloaded, and stressed due to the constant desire to be wealthy and acquire more and more material things. It has also been defined as lack of motivation or sense of entitlement among those who have inherited or have made large amounts of money.

Critics of rampant consumerism have also pointed out the societal and environmental impacts of affluenza, which include workaholism, waste (a result of manufacturing, buying, and throwing out excess goods and materials in the pursuit of always having more), and a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The term affluenza is trending again, thanks to the court case of Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old teen who was sentenced to 10 years probation for driving while drunk and killing four people and wounding two critically. His attorneys had argued that the privileged and wealthy teen had been a victim of an extravagant lifestyle and upbringing that didn't include consequences for bad behavior.

Does Affluenza Lead to Spoiled Kids?

Discussions about affluenza have ranged from whether or not it can be called a real illness (it isn't in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, for instance), and whether or not there is a connection between affluenza and bad behavior in people, particularly in children.

While being given too many material things can certainly be a contributor in kids becoming spoiled, it's more likely that indulging kids—and not setting limits or giving them consequences when they misbehave—is probably just as much, if not more, of a factor in how kids turn out. Some families with money may have lovely, well-mannered kids who are really nice, kind people while some families who are more in the middle- or lower-income categories can have spoiled, selfish, and greedy kids who feel entitled.

In other words, affluenza may be a term that has been applied to wealthy people but it's worth noting that anyone can suffer from it. Anyone who spends too much of their paycheck to buy things they may not even need, or who thinks that life would be much better if they only had more material possessions (more designer clothes, a bigger house, more things to fill their house) is living the pursuit of the mantra that money is equal to happiness.

How to Prevent Affluenza

Whether or not you agree that kids can get affluenza, you will definitely want to do all you can to make sure you don't spoil your kids and end up with a child who feels like he should have everything he wants, when he wants. There are few things more unpleasant than a child who is never thankful, always demanding, and ever greedy. If affluenza is a real thing, here are some important steps you can take to make sure your child is not tainted by it.

Teach the Value of Money

Is that new toy she wants something that fits the family budget? How does a family work together to decide what it can or cannot spend money on? And what is the value of saving money and working hard for it? Children need to learn these and other important lessons about money. Even preschoolers and young grade-schoolers can begin to learn about money and begin to understand what money is and how it is or is not spent.

Teach Good Manners

People who are focused on what they want to buy and what they want for themselves are less likely to have self-control and manners. Teaching children how to be patient, have good table manners, be considerate of other people are less likely to be spoiled and constantly selfish.

Do Things Together That Don't Involve Buying Things

We all buy something we want or need now and then but try to keep family time out of the mall. Make fun family activities like playing board games or playing a fun outdoor game (or a winter or fall activity, depending on the season). Make some healthy meals together to teach them about healthy eating, or do some fun crafts to encourage kids to use their imaginations and work on fine-motor skills.

Turn off the TV and talk about product placement

Have you ever thought about the sheer number of commercials we are bombarded with when the television is on? Or the number of products that are placed strategically in movies and shows? It can be tough for even adults to resist the call of those tempting products we see on the small and big screens. Think about how hard it must be for a child and talk to your kids about how advertising works. And as much as possible, turn off the TV.

Discipline Your Child

Children who have limits and responsibilities (such as chores) are happier than those who are not disciplined. Disciplining children does not mean yelling or punishing constantly; it means giving them good guidance and structure, enforcing consequences when they break the rules and helping shape them into good children who will grow into good adults. If you've ever seen a spoiled child—maybe a child who has affluenza—who is allowed to do as he pleases, you've no doubt seen a clear example of why we need to discipline children. One of the biggest discipline mistakes we can make as parents is to not discipline a child at all.

Teach How to Help Others

A child who is constantly thinking about what he wants and is always looking for instant gratification could probably use a dose of reality. Teach her to see what is around her, at the people in her community or school or town or city who are much less fortunate and need some help. Talk to her about some ways she can volunteer, such as by donating old books and clothes, or by helping an elderly neighbor get groceries. Show her how to be charitable, and set an example by working with her to help others around you.

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