Affluenza. It sounds mildly familiar, yet you can’t quite put your finger on it, can you? A combination of the words “affluence” and “influenza,” the term is described in the book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic as “a painful, contagious, socially-transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” Or in simpler terms, it refers to one’s inability to understand the consequence of their actions due to financial privilege.
The term grew in popularity after the highly-publicized case of Ethan Couch, an affluent Texas teenager who killed four pedestrians as a result of his drunk driving. Many people were shocked when the judge sentenced him to therapy at an in-patient facility as opposed to serving actual jail time, which the majority of people felt he deserved. Couch’s legal team pointed out that their client suffered from affluenza, stressing that rehabilitation would help him instead of prison.
His final sentence? Probation, a compulsory alcohol awareness class, and only 12 hours of community service. A psychologist who was hired to testify as an expert on the case explained that Couch’s bad behavior could not be directly linked with consequences due to the fact that his parents taught him that wealth buys privilege.
Another psychologist, who disagreed with the sentencing, brought up a counterargument and the fact that a double standard was being set for the wealthy and the poor. The psychologist also mentioned that a sense of entitlement among affluent youth is a social problem, and that if a teenager from a low-income family with parents addicted to hardcore drugs had committed the same crime, a judge would have been less likely to let him off so easily.
The recently-released movie Affluenza, with a Cruel Intentions meets The Great Gatsby-inspired tone, offers viewers a glimpse into the oh-so-foreign-yet-oh-so-familiar world of privileged teens with problems who grow increasingly bored with their wealthy but drab lifestyles. If you compiled a bunch of snapshots from Rich Kids of Instagram, brought them to life and added an indie soundtrack, Affluenza would be the final result. (If you’re an Emma Watson fan, consider watching The Bling Ring, which is essentially the same movie, and you’ll have the rare opportunity to watch Hermione trying her hand at being a bad girl.)
But this whole affluenza epidemic isn’t limited to the United States. There have been an increasing number of incidents all the way across the world in China among the fuerdai (the Chinese term for second-generation wealth and used to refer to the sons and daughters of China’s nouveau riche). From the son of a well-known Chinese singer who was accused of participating in a gang rape of a girl, to the rich young couple who beat the driver of the car in front of them for going too slow, to the multiple car accidents involving a youth behind the wheel of a Ferrari or Mercedes that result in several lives lost — these various incidents have are on the rise… and the public is insisting that the children of these wealthy parents be subject to the standard punishment that any other citizen would be forced to endure.
In my opinion, the parents are the sole root of the problem. While parents can’t be held completely responsible for their children’s actions for the rest of their lives, when they enable their children and give them that overwhelming sense of entitlement that comes with having endless access to credit cards with no limit and other indulgences not afforded to the every-day person, it’s easy to get caught up in a bubble that makes one feel invincible and almost immortal. And how it must hurt when that bubble is popped and reality comes crashing down.
For all you parents out there: how do you keep your kids grounded and down-to-earth, even while trying to give them everything you never had? How do you enforce consequences? Let us know in the comments below.
By: Kamala Kirk