The Rich Kid Syndrome Is the Result of Poor Parenting

The Rich Kid Syndrome doesn't refer to wealth but to inadequate upbringing based on overprotection and providing little to none tools to fend for themselves.
The Rich Kid Syndrome Is the Result of Poor Parenting
Bernardo Peña

Written and verified by the psychologist Bernardo Peña.

Last update: 23 August, 2022

The Rich Kid Syndrome, also known as affluenza, doesn’t refer to the children of wealthy people. It’s more about the results of giving children everything they ask for, without requiring minimum effort. This situation usually occurs in affluent families.

However, it can also occur in middle-class families, in which parents try (often unconsciously) to make up for their physical and emotional absences with material goods.

The point is that children don’t actually care for material goods. They mainly want to reinforce the emotional bond and meet their affective needs. Thus, you must show them that you love them and spend quality time with them.

Moreover, over-gifting a child and honoring all their requests isn’t a good way to raise them. Just imagine what’ll happen when they go out into the world on their own?

What’s the origin of the term rich kid syndrome?

Although this syndrome isn’t an official clinical diagnosis among psychiatrists and psychologists, the use of the term is widespread since the 1990s. Affluenza was the first term people used to refer to it and probably began with the book The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence.

Jessie H. O’Neill explains how the spoiled children of affluent 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.

A child with Rich Kid Syndrome.

The controversial case of affluenza starring Ethan Couch

The term has been poorly documented and doesn’t appear, according to a 2015 article, in any version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Less than a pathology, it’s a “social epidemic of consumerism and exacerbated materialism.”

The term transcended when Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old American boy, caused an accident due to speeding while drunk and his negligence led to the death of four people died and the injuring of nine in 2013. The prosecution requested 20 years in prison, but the sentence was reduced to ten years probation and one year of psychological treatment in a private hospital. Defense plea: the young man suffers from “affluenza”.

Despite the benefit, in 2020 he violated the terms of his probation in an attempt to flee to Mexico, an action for which his mother was also imprisoned for aiding and abetting.

Couch is currently under a 9 p.m. curfew, and must wear a patch that controls alcohol and drug use. In 2024 this condition ends and the general opinion is that he “got away with it.”

Are you promoting Rich Kid Syndrome in your children?

You don’t need to have a lot of money to have 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.

This often leads them to end up offering material gifts to fill the void, which has consequences.

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 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

In addition to the signs mentioned above, the same research also speaks of a number of other “symptoms” or characteristics that young people with rich kid syndrome tend to exhibit:

  • 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 you prevent the Rich Kid Syndrome?

A toddler looking sad.

It’s crucial for any child to understand the effort their parents make to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. Also, that you have to work, and sometimes hard, to obtain material things. Likewise, teach them to save to treat themselves to certain things they want.

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 overprotect 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 adults.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.