"Rich Kid Syndrome": A Mindset that Results from Parenting

The "rich kid syndrome" doesn't allude so much to the wealth of the parents, but rather, being brought up with over-protection and little to no teaching regarding how to do things for themselves.
"Rich Kid Syndrome": A Mindset that Results from Parenting

Last update: 04 May, 2021

Rich kid syndrome is also known as “affluenza.” However, it doesn’t just refer to the kids of wealthy parents. It has to do with giving children everything that they ask for without requiring them to do anything for it. It’s a situation that generally occurs in high-income families. 

However, it’s a pattern that also can take place in middle-class families where parents try (very often without knowing) to meet their children’s physical and emotional needs with material goods. 

Although psychiatric associations don’t consider the rich kid syndrome to be an official clinical diagnosis, people started to use the term since the 90’s. It first appeared in the book The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence.

Jessie H. O’Neill explains how spoiled children in wealthy families exhibit irresponsible behavior and a lack of empathy. This is a direct consequence of overprotection and making up for lack of time with gifts and money.

How can we know if we’re sowing the “rich kid syndrome” in our kids?

You don’t need to have a lot of money to suffer from this syndrome. In fact, cases of affluenza are more and more common in children and teens of middle-class families. 

According to a study published in the American Journal of Sociology, parents today, because of their responsibilities or the effort to position themselves economically, don’t devote enough time to raising their children.

The first signs of rich kid syndrome

One of the first signs of rich kid syndrome, according to various studies, becomes apparent when the child expresses boredom relatively frequently. This happens despite having a room full of toys and all kinds of trendy technological gadgets.

If you want your children to calm down, or to prevent tantrums, you may result to giving them something material. Unfortunately, however, this encourages this syndrome. On a further note, if you give them a prize for everything that they do or for behaving well, it can have the same negative effect. 

Another way that you might be encouraging rich kid syndrome is by buying them expensive gifts even if there’s no special occasion, or by sacrificing family needs in order to buy a something special for your children. These kinds of attitudes actually are a hazard to children’s emotional and physical health.

The consequences for a child’s physical and emotional health

  • Most affected children develop a low self-esteem and lose motivation. 
  • Children become unable to tolerate frustration because they believe that they deserve everything.
  • They don’t confront their own problems. Children believe that mom and dad will always come to solve them.
  • Their insensitivity makes them irresponsible and lack discipline. 
  • They show high levels of stress and anxiety in academic failure. 
  • Children have a hard time keeping harmonic relationships with their classmates. 
  • They become nervous and irritated for trivial things and become very unhappy as a result of them.
  • Children often engage in harmful behavior such as alcohol or drug use.

Can we prevent it?

A toddler looking sad.

In the book Your Child, a Competent Person: Towards New Family Core Values, family therapist Jesper Juul states that children need to understand that there are responsibilities within the home that they must fulfill, without having to be rewarded for it.

Teach them to set the table, take out the garbage, and help clean and tidy their room. These activities will reinforce their values.

Parents also have to get children in touch with the real world.They should learn how to value what they have as well as how to respect others. As parents, we shouldn’t over-protect them. On the contrary, we should offer them the tools that’ll help them confront their own problems.

Being strict with children is an act of love, too. By doing so, parents can help kids grow with the correct ethics and emotions. You’re also loving your child when you put limits on them. They need to put in effort to get what they want.

Frustration is also a part of learning, and learning how to deal with it is essential. By teaching them about it, you’ll encourage their emotional and psychological development that’ll help them be a happy adult.

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  • Capron, E. W. (2004). Types of pampering and the narcissistic personality trait. Journal of Individual Psychology60(1). Available at: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2004-12532-006. Accessed 21/04/2020.
  • Juul, J. (2012). Su hijo, una persona competente: hacia los nuevos valores básicos de la familia. Herder Editorial. Available at: https://bit.ly/3eIfBA2. Accessed 21/04/2020.
  • Kets de Vries, M. F. R. (2016). Feeling Sorry for the Super-Rich? In Riding the Leadership Rollercoaster (pp. 25–29). Springer International Publishing. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-45162-6_5. Accessed 21/04/2020.
  • O’Neill, J. H. (1997). The golden ghetto: The psychology of affluence. Affluenza Project.
  • Sayer, L. C., Bianchi, S. M., & Robinson, J. P. (2004). Are Parents Investing Less in Children? Trends in Mothers’ and Fathers’ Time with Children. American Journal of Sociology, 110(1), 1–43. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1086/386270. Accessed 21/04/2020.