Society expresses great concern for poor, underserved children and the increased likelihood they may lack access to health care and education, or that they may turn to drugs or crime in adulthood. Less attention is paid to children of affluent parents who have their own set of problems. Emotional neglect often goes unnoticed or unreported, which may be due to a bias against well-to-do, privileged people or a tendency to blame parents for spoiling or indulging their children.
Affluent parents often recognize that their children are struggling with behavioral issues, academic problems or social relationships, but they may be hesitant to seek help for fear of being chastised, or they may feel shame or guilt for their wealth. Like any parents, wealthy parents love and care for their children; however, when troubles arise, family programs or counseling are rarely offered.
It’s true that affluent children may be overindulged with money or material possessions, while at the same time being starved of love and affection. Neglect can occur when parents are too busy to spend time with children, hiring nannies or sending their offspring to boarding school while they spend time traveling for business or pleasure. Academic achievement or good behavior are rewarded with material possessions, but too many luxuries early in life may result in a lack of boundaries and a powerful sense of entitlement, even Narcissism.
Today’s celebrity culture has aggravated the situation, as wealth, power and fame are viewed as worthy goals.
Extremely low tolerance for frustration– Children who grow up without boundaries tend to have poor impulsive control and are easily frustrated when things don’t go their way. Parents often give into their demands to avoid ugly temper tantrums. This low tolerance for frustration continues into adulthood.
Sense of entitlement– A child who learns that poor behavior nets positive results will develop a sense of entitlement with very little concern for the needs or rights of other people. The sense of entitlement extends into the adult years, and is often manifested by use of demeaning language that may be racist or sexist in nature.
Lack of appropriate guilt– Guilt isn’t always a negative emotion; it serves as a powerful gut reaction that tells us we’ve done something wrong. However, a healthy sense of guilt develops only within the context of close relationships. A childhood in which relationships are absent but every wish is granted creates adults who lack appropriate guilt or a sense of moral justice
Lack of coping skills– Children learn to cope with difficult problems by talking about situations with a parent who actively listens and provides guidance. A child who doesn’t learn healthy ways to cope sees life’s difficulties as overwhelming.
Boredom– Children rarely appreciate rules and routines, which they find bothersome and boring. However, rules and routines develop structure and self-control needed to face the challenges of everyday life as children grow into adulthood. Children who grow up without structure become adults who are threatened by anything that stands in their way. Material goods and thrill-seeking often take the place of relationships and emotional closeness. Addictive behavior is common.
Lack of purpose– When children grow up with no responsibilities, they have no goals or sense of purpose. They tend to be emotionally empty, and their inner tension may result in verbal or physical aggression towards others.
Blaming others– Young adults often depend on family wealth or trust funds, but at the same time, they are quick to blame parents and other people for problems in their lives. Parents often accept the blame because they already experience feelings of guilt or failure.
Poor planning skills– Children who grow up with a sense of entitlement often visualize either an unrealistic future of grandiose dreams and desires, or they become adults so fearful of challenge and uncertainty that they coast through life untethered. Wealthy, young adults may drift without anchors or fall victim to cults or other forms of exploitation, while others may display a skewed view of reality, which can result in bizarre, in appropriate behavior.
Reduced empathy– Adults who grow up in affluent families are often emotionally immature and may have difficulty picking up social cues and responding to the emotions and needs of others. As a result, they may have great difficulty integrating into social groups, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Social bonds established in childhood tend to be superficial and rarely continue into adulthood.
Problems withstanding peer pressure– Adults who grow up surrounded by wealth and privilege tend to have weak personalities overplayed by grandiosity. As a result, they may feel uncertain when it comes to standing up to peer pressure or the lure of material goods.
Difficulties with competition– Children of wealthy families often have difficulty cooperating with others, which makes competition either a battle to be won or a problem to be avoided in order to avoid anxiety and feelings of insecurity.
Preventing and treating affluent neglect– Parents and children must realize the importance of creating boundaries and saying no, and that life always has difficulties, even in the presence of extreme wealth. The ability to express feelings, including love, is critical.
Seeking help– Wealthy parents and children benefit from the expertise of a qualified psychiatrist, who can assess the situation and rule out mental illness, substance abuse, or disorders such as ADHD. A psychiatrist can also identify depression, anxiety or any other underlying issue. Family therapy helps parents deal with guilt and shame and learn to break the cycle of affluent neglect.
The road to happiness: Counseling helps wealthy families realize that true happiness comes not from success or material wealth, but from accomplishment and a sense of purpose. Tools for finding purpose in life include philanthropy, entrepreneurial endeavors, participation in activities that promote positive social change and being a role model for others.