"Affluenza," otherwise known as rich-kid syndrome, is not spread by germs. It cannot be diagnosed by a pediatrician and it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Yet attorneys for a 16-year-old boy in Texas were able to successfully employ the affliction in his defense, resulting in the teen being sentenced to 10 years of probation and no jail time for killing four people.
Although there is no official definition for affluenza, it is generally thought of as a condition stemming from having wealthy parents who set no limits.
Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University, describes it as resulting from “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.”
The affluenza-afflicted teen, Ethan Couch, stole beer from a Walmart before killing four people in a drunk driving accident. In addition, two people riding in Couch’s pickup suffered severe injuries; one is permanently unable to move or speak, the other suffered internal injuries and broken bones.
Couch’s attorneys argued that the teen's parents were partially responsible since they had failed to set limits for the boy and indulged all of his wishes. Judge Jean Boyd bought the argument, disregarding the maximum 20-year sentence being sought by prosecutors and saying she would work to find him a long-term treatment facility instead.
Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter died in the crash, told CNN's Anderson Cooper, “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."
Whether or not affluenza is specific to affluent families is still up for debate; lapses in parenting happen across socioeconomic ranges, experts say. But in wealthier families, some observe, there is more money for fast cars, drugs, and alcohol, among other things; when extra resources like these are available to fuel impulse control issues, the results can be disastrous.
"If you find the parents are not imposing limits themselves but fighting consequences ... then obviously, the child is going to continue whatever," Luthar said. "You keep upping the ante and unless a child faces consequences, their actions are likely to mushroom."
"It really speaks to the importance of attending to our children's behavior early on," she added. “It's not just loving our kids but putting the appropriate limits on their behavior.”
CNN reports on the story in the video below:
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