The Problem with Rich Kids - Leah Benson Therapy
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The Problem with Rich Kids

In the current issue of Psychology Today, the author, Dr. Suniya Luthar, describes  what she calls, “The problem with rich kids.” These youth have everything they could ever want materially, but they also have higher rates of substance use, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, cheating and stealing than ever. As a group, affluent kids get overlooked as having problems because the assumption is that education and money bring well being, and that if they falter, they will get appropriate services quickly.

Unfortunately, rather than given help when they falter, the kids are pushed more. They are criticized for failure to perform perfectly, given more coaching and more tutoring. Parents resort to sending their child to therapy to address what’s “wrong” with them when they appear to be socially weak, or their behaviors become frightening or so radical that they think, “I can’t handle my kid anymore.” The author cites her research as showing that most problems these children suffer are the result of “pressure for high-octane performance.”

The reality that performance is the foundation for the problems that children suffer is not isolated to rich children. However, affluence places rich children in the position of having many more areas in which they are expected to perform; hence, “high-octane” performance.

Like all children, rich kids subvert their needs to be held, to eat, to sleep and to eliminate on their own schedule for their parents’ needs to greater or lesser degrees. Whether the parents’ needs are the result of the economic realities of a life of poverty or the social expectations of a life of affluence, the result for children is the same. They hold back their natural impulses and perform to gain favor. For children in poverty or for those from a modest level of income, as groups, performance expectation generally stops at the time when a child has gained moderate level of social skills. For children from wealthy families, the pressure has just begun. Children can be expected to perform well enough to get into a preschool that will get them into the “right” preparatory schools so that they can attend the “right” colleges and post graduate programs. All their free time is scheduled with lessons and organized sports so that they can “look” good for admissions boards.

This kind of life creates sad, lonely, anguished children who masquerade their suffering with anger and self-absorption or self-hatred and depression. Their ability to tolerate failure is minimal. They are desperate for acceptance and a cannot believe when someone accepts them. They need a buffer from the constant expectation of performance. Parents, you are that buffer. If your child is suffering, take a moment and ask yourself, am I contributing to this? You have more power than you realize, even when your child is a teen and pretends you mean nothing anymore. Your ability to make a difference in your child’s life is still powerful, but it must be executed indirectly. If your intent is to relieve their pressure, your actions will be powerful medicine. If you decide you want to find someone to help you, consider this information as you begin your search.