If you’re like me, you were raised middle-class, with parents that just hoped that you stayed out of trouble, got into a college, finished school and went on to live a life that was better than theirs. With pretty manageable expectations, I think I’m doing pretty well. I’ve never been locked up, I don’t have any baby daddy’s, and I’ve earned myself a decent living. Would I have had a better education and career if my parents were wealthy and went to Ivy league schools? Probably, but according some new findings, it would also mean that I’d have increased likelihood of forming an eating disorder, stealing from my parents, and struggling with depression.
Looking at preppy kids in their private school uniforms heading to their weekly tennis lesson, it’s hard to understand how they could have any of these issues. I mean, they have it all… and that seems to be exactly the problem. I just finished reading The Problem With Rich Kids – a very insightful article in Psychology Today that pointed out the fact that today’s children of wealthy parents are more vulnerable than ever to social, emotional and behavioral problems.
Why? It seems as though the high pressure to succeed put on by parents and society can lead to serious anxiety by kids who are scared to death of failure. Since they are given all of the resources necessary to get the very best grades like private schools and tutoring, they are aware of the obligation to perform at the very highest standards. As they become teens and start to question who they are as individuals, those raised into white-collar families are already asking themselves “what will I amount to?” instead of “what is it that I like to do?”
Wealthy parents, in an effort to ensure that their children grow up into the affluent lifestyle they’re accustomed to, can end up sending a very damaging message. The study noted, ”…when children feel that their parents disproportionately value personal successes (in today’s grades or tomorrow’s careers), far more than they value their personal decency and kindness, the children show elevated symptoms of depression and anxiety.”
This makes it no surprise, then, that rich young men become focused early on gaining power in their peer groups – which generally means using money, substance abuse and sex as a means to get there. In college, these are the guys that want to show their power by throwing money around in bars and nightclubs and sleeping with as many girls as possible. Now do they not only have depression and anxiety, but this behavior puts them at further risk for limited compassion and kindness, with a “low capacity for tenderness in close relationships, high capacity chauvinism and narcism.” A recent study actually found that narcissistic exhibitionism scores among affluent boys at elite private schools were almost twice the average scores of a more diverse sample. Girls, feeling the pressure to be both beautiful, graceful, kind, but also successful and aggressive - face a slew of their own pressures that come out in eating disorders, substance abuse, and theft.
Why should this all matter? As the article pointed out, these highly educated people will be the ones most likely to be holding positions of power in the next generation. Will all rich kids end up being narcissistic kleptomaniac adults? Of course not, but I think it’s important to understand the price that’s being paid to produce these over-achieving children who will grow up with status valued higher than kindness. Are these the values that we want to shape our future business, politics, or education? I suppose all we can hope is that findings like these help to get the kids who have everything the one thing that they truly need… the (priceless) feeling that they’ll be loved and accepted no matter what path they choose.