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Imagining them is easy. Imagining them laughing, draped head to toe in designer clothes and diamonds, is easy. They must be looking down at the rest of the world, from their comfortable seats at the top of their penthouses, with contempt and pity. Spoiled brats with silver spoons who never had to work a day in their lives, and still could get away with murder thanks to mommy and daddy’s money on their sides. The rich kids of the world have everything they could ever want and more. They have access to the best housing, the best schools, the best cars, the best clothes. They should be ecstatic, every wish of theirs granted by a green paper genie. They should be, but what the eyes see and the mind thinks is not the truth. There is another side to the glitz and the glamour, a darker side. These teens may be wealthy, they may drive expensive cars and live in multi-million dollar estates, but there is more to them than meets the eye. While children of affluent families appear to be at an advantage, they actually have a much higher risk for alcohol and drug use, and mental health issues, which are both caused by parental pressure and isolation.
Wealthy teenagers have more access to alcohol and other substances causing them to have higher substance abuse rates compared to other children. Upper-class adolescents have been declared an at-risk group for substance abuse. This have been confirmed by multiple studies over the years. (qtd. in Ciciolla 315). A study documented twelve groups of high school and college students from different social classes and tracked the amount of substance abuse that existed in each one. In the upper-class cohort for high school students, eleven out of the twelve groups drank more alcohol than the national average. Additionally, the upper-class cohort for college students also used more marijuana, stimulants, and cocaine than the national average (Ciciolla et al. 320). Another study showed that affluent children had a higher level of reported uses of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and hard drugs than inner-city teens (qtd. in Kumar and Luthar 443). According to Foley et al., affluent children have a higher risk of alcohol use for a number of reasons. For example, they could easily be exposed to alcohol from parents drinking. Not only this, but the ability to get alcohol without too much trouble from their own or a friends house also contributes to high levels of drinking among affluent teens. The casual attitude of society that surrounds these teen allows, perhaps even encourages, drinking (188). Furthermore, prosperous parents tend to be more lenient about punishment for substance abuse. This occurs because it is easy for these parents to hide their children´s substance abuse problems (Levine 32). These factors allow substance abuse to start early in wealthy children. Luthar reveals that drinking and drug use, specifically marijuana, can begin as early as thirteen years old. By then, seven percent of affluent boys are already engaging in these activities. Many wealthy adolescents do not mature out of this harmful and hazardous behavior. This pattern of substance abuse can continue into early adulthood and beyond. According to studies, drinking and getting drunk in social settings, as well as hard drugs (e.g., cocaine) is still commonplace after college into early adult years (qtd. in Ciciolla et al. 316). Twenty-three to forty percent of men and nineteen to twenty-four percent of women in the study by Ciciolla et al. were expected to become substance dependent (323). This lasting role of alcohol and drugs in the lives of the privileged often hides under the illusion of wealth and perfection, which covers up problems that run deeper still.
Many affluent adolescents struggle with common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Research done by Bronwyn Becker and Suniya Luthar shows that twenty-two percent of adolescent girls from wealthy families have clinical depression. The national rate for depression for adolescent girls is one third of that. Some researchers think that these high levels of depression are partially due to the high substance abuse rates in wealthy adolescents. Rising substance abuse rates can also help explain the rising levels of anxiety found in affluent teenagers (Latendresse and Luthar). Additionally, a study conducted by Suniya Luthar and Bronwyn Becker found that fourteen percent of affluent adolescents have “clinically significant symptoms” for anxiety, while the national average lies around seven percent. This study also showed that twenty percent of seventh-grade girls experienced these symptoms. One proposal to why affluent teens have high rates of anxiety is due to their parents’ anxiety rates and how it, in turn, affects them. As stated by David Miller, many wealthy parents have extreme concerns about whether or not their children will do well enough in school and their extracurriculars to be accepted into a reputable college. This anxiety is then directly transferred to the parent’s child as they feel a desire to succeed. Anxiety in affluent adolescents can be dangerous, as it sets an impossible standard of perfection, as these students now believed that anything less than perfect is simply unacceptable (Latendresse and Luthar). As noted by Psychologist Madeline Levine, perfectionism is dangerous because it is directly correlated to depression and suicide. Those who are perfectionists do not understand how to cope when things go wrong, leaving them vulnerable to even more anxiety (29). Such perfectionism, anxiety, and depression found in affluent teenagers all stem back to the “key to happiness,” money. In fact, research has proven that depression is more common in developed countries rather than underdeveloped ones. Even though America has doubled its wealth, there is no evidence supporting that Americans are happier. In this time period, teen suicide rates have increased by three hundred percent, and the rates of depression have been at a rapid increase in young adults and teens (qtd. in Becker and Luthar). Thus, it only makes sense that the wealthy are experiencing these problems at an even higher rate. Additionally, many wealthy parents are opposed to getting their children help for their mental health issues. Allowing their children to seek help could severely tarnish the hard-earned family name or could expose private details of their lives to the judgemental public, so affluent adolescents are often left alone to deal with their mental health issues (Levine). While those who come from wealthy families may appear as if their lives are perfect, they still struggle with common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
The rich teenagers are overwhelmed with pressure for high achievements, isolation from parents, and conflating wealth with self-worth, which all correlate to their high substance abuse and mental health issues. Pressure from parents and society to succeed in all aspects of life takes part of the blame for high rates of substance abuse and mental health problems (Luthar). Levine explains that affluent parents place much pressure on their children because they want their children to accomplish more than they have in life. Parental pressure leads to children thinking that their parents love them for their achievements rather than for their personality and self. Some think that their parents’ love is ¨conditional¨ on their accomplishments, so they try to be perfect in order to earn their parents’ love. This leads to these affluent teens having low self-esteem if they do not accomplish as much as they expected of themselves (30). The other main cause for substance abuse and mental health problems in affluent teens is isolation from parents. A study was done on pre-adolescents from well-off homes. Thirteen percent felt that their relationship with their parents was “optimal,” Twenty-seven percent thought it was “adequate”, and sixty percent thought it was “distant”. The group of children in the sixty percent category showed high levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. (Levine 31-32). Madeline Levine talks about the difference between connection and intrusion:
Being “everywhere” is about intrusion; being “nowhere” is about lack of connection. While
affluent kids often feel that adults are crawling all over their world, intruding into territory
that rightfully belongs to the child…this does not mean that kids feel connected…And it is
emotional closeness, maternal warmth in particular, that is as close as we get to a silver
bullet against psychological impairment. (Levine 32)
Researchers show that there are direct connections between parental isolation and depression and anxiety. This means that affluent adolescents are at a higher risk for severe anxiety and depression due to the isolation they receive from their parents. (Latendresse and Luthar). Other than parental pressure and isolation, there are other factors that play a part in the problems of rich children. Many high school students have the idea that going to an Ivy League college is what will bring true satisfaction and joy in life. This leads to obsession over resumes and grades. Motivation starts to only come from anxiety, and these students stop getting satisfaction from their accomplishments. This leads to children having worsened anxiety, developing depression, and using substances as an escape (Kumar and Luthar 446). In addition to parental pressure and isolation, some problems rich teens face come directly from money. Rich children often use their money as a conversation starter, and their guide to make friends. When they exit childhood their parent´s money becomes something they have to live up to, and then all the problems arise (Levine; Luthar). Overall, the pressure and isolation affluent adolescents experience from their parents combined with the psychological disadvantages of having money.
While there are benefits to being born into an affluent family, there are some drawbacks such as substance abuse, mental health issues, caused by pressure, isolation, and money. As society plants the idea that only the poor abuse substances, more and more affluent teenagers fall into the depths of drugs and alcohol. The same can be said about mental health issues, where the depression and anxiety of the poor are put on a stage, with the mental health problems of the wealthy behind the curtain. The hidden problem’s roots are parental pressure and isolation, combined with the psychological effects of money. Society continues to say that those with money are immune to problems, but in some ways, the wealthy are even more susceptible to them. More programs need to be made for affluent adolescents, and this needs to be done in combination with national awareness. Despite the fact that many people view wealth as an advantage, children born into money have disadvantages in substance abuse rates and mental health issues.
- Becker, Bronwyn, and Suniya S. Luthar. “Privileged but Pressured? A Study of Affluent Youth.” Child Development, vol. 73, no. 5, 2002, pp. 1593-610. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search Database, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC352 4830/. Accessed 2 May 2019.
- Ciciolla, Lucia, et al. “Adolescents from Upper Middle Class: Substance Misuse and Addiction across Early Adulthood.” Development and Psychopathology, vol. 30, no. 1, 31 May 2017, pp. 315-55. Cambridge Core, doi: 10.1017/S0954579417000645.
- Foley, Kristie Long, et al. “Selected Community Characteristics and Underage Drinking.” Substance Use & Misuse, vol. 44, no. 2, 2009, pp. 179-94. Informa Healthcare, doi: 10.1080/10826080802347594.
- Kumar, Nina L., and Suniya S. Luthar. “Youth in High Achieving Schools: Challenges to Mental Health and Directions for Evidence-Based Interventions.” Handbook of School-Based Mental Health Promotion, edited by A. W. Leschied, et al., Springer, 15 Feb. 2018, pp. 441-58.
- Latendresse, Shawn, and Suniya S. Luthar. “Children of the Affluent Challenges to Well-Being.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 14, no. 1, 1 Feb. 2005, pp. 49-53. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search Database, doi: 10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00333.x.
- Levine, Madeline. The Price of Privilege. New York, HarperCollins Publisher, 2008.
- Luthar, Suniya S. “The Problem with Rich Kids.” Psychology Today, 9 June 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201311/the-problem-rich-kids. Accessed 25 Apr. 2019.
- Miller, David. “The Common Misconceptions About a Wealthy Upbringing.” Psychology Today, 11 July 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-human-side-finance/201807/the-commo n-misconceptions-about-wealthy-upbringing. Accessed 25 Apr. 2019.
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