My patient, Shane, picks up his latte by 6 a.m. to help guzzle down his vitamins and anti-depressants. He works out with his personal trainer and steps onto his first treadmill of the day. This self-made 53-year-old entrepreneur works at least 60 hours a week putting out fires and has grown somewhat estranged from his equally stressed and busy wife.
But, he tells me, his greatest concern is his bored, demanding and unmotivated 17-year-old daughter, Marny. These days, his relationship with his “little girl” is mainly comprised of the exchange of funds, goods and services.
Affluenza is a social virus—the term was popularized in a late 1990s book by John de Graaf, David Wann and Thomas Naylor. Prevalent among baby boomers and about a decade of post boomers, it manifests as excessive overwork and a driven desire to achieve a certain lifestyle. A new mutation of Affluenze is rampant in the under-30 crowd for whom the symptom of excessive overwork transformed into a sense of entitlement and the notion that the lavish life should be delivered free.
What’s important for parents to understand is that wealth doesn’t create over-privileged children. Pampering does. To counteract this problem, my advice is to not do things for your children they can do for themselves. From tying a shoe to getting a job, parents must allow kids to muddle through the challenges they encounter, learn from their mistakes and face the consequences of their choices. Possibly the best antidote for this emerging strain of Affluenza is to overcome hardship, work for achievements and earn recognition for a job well done. These things build character, self-esteem, patience, resilience and even humility in our children.
The problem is Shane’s version of parenting is equivalent to a platinum credit card. There are no limits. This well-intentioned absentee father felt guilty for missing many of Marny’s milestones and compensated with overindulgence. The roles in his house are reversed, with Marny as the boss even though she’s not qualified to be in charge. Shane wanted to continue on the parenting path of least resistance but, he began setting boundaries, standards, expectations, and consequences. He learned that success as a parent was not winning his daughter’s love, being the hero or making her troubles disappear but rather offering her guidance and parameters from which she could resolve her own issues and find her own way.
Parents often underestimate children’s abilities to manage independently. Have faith in your kids and give them a chance to confront life’s challenges. Instill a work ethic by assigning them tasks, responsibilities and standards to aspire to.
Do not reward behaviour unless you want to see it continue. Provide encouragement but let them land on their own two feet instead of your lap. If we don’t allow our children to fall out of the nest, they will never learn to fly. And if we over-gratify their wants, they will never know the pleasures of earning their dreams.
This article was originally published on capitalmagazine.ca.