Day 481: Affluenza - Rich Man's Reason

(CNN) -- Attorneys for Texas teen Ethan Couch claimed that his "affluenza" meant he was blameless for driving drunk and causing a crash that left four people dead in June.
Simply put, Couch, 16, claims that his condition stemmed from having wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for him.
Judge Jean Boyd sentenced him Tuesday to 10 years of probation but no jail time, saying she would work to find him a long-term treatment facility.
But Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter in the crash, said on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," "There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day. The primary message has to absolutely be that money and privilege can't buy justice in this country."
Is "affluenza" real? Or is it a way for coddled children and adolescents to evade consequences for their actions?
Not surprisingly, "affluenza" does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, the "psychiatric Bible."

But the term highlights the issue of parents, particularly upper-middle-class ones, who not only refuse to discipline their children but may protest the efforts of others -- school officials, law enforcement and the courts -- who attempt to do so, said Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University.
"There are families where very, very few limits are set at a time when they should be," she said. By age 16, she noted, it's too late: "The horse is out of the barn."
The diagnosis for youths in such situations would be impulse control problems, said Atlanta psychologist Mary Gresham -- and impulse control problems are seen across all socioeconomic levels in families where limits aren't set.
"We don't know if the rates of poor limit-setting are higher in affluent families or not," Gresham said, noting that there has not been a lot of research.
Luthar says she has studied wealthier families, however, and "we've found the level of serious adjustment problems ranging from depression, anxiety, delinquency, substance abuse higher among kids of upper-middle-class families."
She says in one of her studies, her team gave youths several different scenarios, ranging from minor to serious infractions -- such as being caught for the third time with vodka at school or plagiarizing on a test -- and asked them how likely their parents would be to protest any punishment for them.
"There was definitely a subgroup of kids that said, 'My parents would object (to punishment from school officials),' " she said.
However, she points out that this is not the norm. "It's a small group (of parents) but very vocal, aggressive, entitled. ... There is definitely a small subgroup that is powerful and way off the charts."
"I wouldn't say there's worse parenting in affluent families and fewer limits set," Gresham said. "That's not true."
But in wealthy families, Gresham said, "kids without limits have a lot more resources to use for their impulsive behavior. They have a lot more money and a lot more access to powerful cars that are fast; to drugs and alcohol, because those things cost money. So the extra resources that you have to live out your impulse control problems really create a problem."
Both she and Luthar pointed out that affluent families also have the means to afford things like quality defense attorneys and treatment for their children. And, says Gresham, children in affluent families may not have jobs and may have more free time.

As stated in the extract above, it's not that only rich parents fail to discipline their children, there are some parents in every walk of life who, for whatever reason, do not teach their children discipline or responsibility. Also, in the case of wealthy households where the parents allow the child to do whatever they like with a large resource base, then there is a greater likelihood that the child will use those resources to fulfill their every whim.

There is no one thing that "makes" a person turn out a certain way - the development of a personality is something that happens over time through the consistent participation in thoughts, actions, behavioural conditioning and so forth. The same goes for these so-called "affluencial" children/adults: Their personalities and belief systems developed over their lifetimes, influenced by the environments and people around them.

So the question that is being asked is whether these "affluencial" children are responsible for who they have become - and therefore their actions - or not. There is a lot to consider in answering this question - essentially the parents are responsible for their children's development - but at what point is a child considered old enough to start looking at themselves objectively in order to determine whether they like who they are? In a way, we are all in the same position: we may not have directly caused the conditions existent on Earth, but we are active participants in the sense that we accept and allow the conditions to continue existing. If we do nothing to change life on Earth, then nothing will change - so yes, we may not have created the conditions ourselves, but we are responsible for the conditions because we are in a position to make a difference that would improve this life and world for a multitude of beings.

The major issue in both situations is the fact that neither us as humanity or the "affluential" children are given the skills/tools/ability to become "self-aware" (I mean self aware in the sense that we are aware of our thoughts, words and actions and the consequences of these, as well as the realization that we are responsible for all of the above). For this reason, there are very few people who question themselves and this life - who question whether this really is the very best we can be and who question whether everything that we believe and trust is really valid.

From this we can conclude that "Affluenza" is merely a symptom of a greater illness that seems to affect each of us: A lack of understanding that we are, in fact, responsible for ourselves, this world and the lives of those around us due to the complex interconnected nature of life on Earth.