On April 13, 2016, Ethan Couch, the teen who killed 4 people after driving under the influence, was sentenced to serve four consecutive terms of 180 days in prison (one term for each of the 2013 car crash victims) equaling two years in prison, as punishment for his original drunk driving case from 2013 in light of his recent fleeing to Mexico. In his original trial, he received no prison time because he was said to suffer from Affluenza, an inability to understand that actions cause consequences due to his family wealth.
Affluenza is not about wealth. It is about a generation of parents who want to make their children so “happy” that they fail them miserably. Let’s face it, it’s so much easier to say yes and throw money at your kid than saying no and meting out consequences. But loving parenting also includes teaching your child this monumental rule of life: You make things happen. Whatever you do kiddo, there will be a reaction; story of our lives. The sooner we let our children in on this life principle, the healthier they’ll be.
This doesn’t mean you can’t bail your children out of jams. Just that once you do, stay firm in showing him that his actions still create reactions. Ethan Couch was largely bailed out at age 15 when he was cited for “minor in consumption of and in possession of alcohol,” after he was caught in a parked pick-up truck with a naked, passed out 14-year-old girl. How the families of the deceased wish that he would’ve received severe consequences by his parents, demanding zero tolerance on drinking, drugs and driving. So next time your toddler hits another kid on the playground, stop talking and yelling; remove her and keep her by your side for 5 minutes, or leave and return home where you ignore her for 10 minutes. DUI at 16? Have your child pay back all of the money for the attorney you hired, no driving without an adult in the car for a year (unless it’s to run an errand for you), and no more contact with any friend who encouraged such behavior.
Consequences work both ways. When your children make an effort and produce positive outcomes, be sure to talk it up and reward them. That’s the other, wonderful side of life.
Here are 5 additional anti-affluenza inoculations:
- More is Caught than Taught:
What does your modeling teach your kids about a healthy identity? If you can’t stop talking about your “things:” car, shoes, clothes, Italian roof tiles as well as how powerful and dominant you are (I got 50 people at work answering to me), then you’ve clearly taught your child that’s it’s all about the stuff and power. Instead, model kindness. Show them how to stop and ask the elderly if you can help them with their bags on a plane, how to give food to the homeless instead of just tossing some coins their way, talk about your giving actions to others and your community.
- You’re More Than School:
Stop telling your children that they have one job in life: to perform well educationally. This is largely self serving. Children need to be empowered and offering them opportunities to help you and others gives them a strong sense of self. Encourage them to babysit for free, volunteer for meaningful organizations, and look to do simple, thoughtful gestures for others. You’ll be building their self esteem while showing them they can change the world for others whenever they choose.
- Provide Chores:
It’s old fashioned for a reason; it works to help your child develop responsibility. Even if sometimes it’s easier and quicker to just do it yourself or outsource it, chores teach kids that the family is a team. Everyone is needed to maintain this home and if one person falls short, it affects all of us.
- Say No More Often:
Remember that toddler that you could make happy with small purchases? You still often said no with good reason. Children of all ages are benefited by limits and the need to manage their emotions around hearing “no.” It prepares them for a happier life as they learn to create their own destiny instead of expecting life to serve them.
- You’re Not So Magnificent:
When we tell our children that they are fantastic every second of the day, who wouldn’t create a sense of superiority to humankind? Praise your child for effort, ingenuity and kindness. Say things like, “How great that you practiced daily to get better and performed so well because of it,” instead of, “Oh my gosh! You are a natural born athlete. Great great great.” Ironically, children who hear undeserved praise fear risk because they might not live up to the greatness status that’s become their identity. Children praised for effort are successful because they know that with any setback, it’s up to them to work harder and smarter to attain their goals.
Ask yourself these simple questions: Am I modeling a lifestyle that I’d want repeated by my child? What are my boundaries for my child? How do I teach my child that for every one of their actions, there is a reaction, for better or for worse?
Empower your child with an identity of giving to others. As a society, we need each other. As we observe Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, this week, I’m reminded of a story about a survivor who at 17 was on his way to Auschwitz. The terrified group in the cattle cars were freezing and this teen saw an elderly man shivering. The teen hugged the man, rubbed him in order to share his body heat and the two of them continued that hug throughout the night as they fell asleep in each other’s arms. Upon waking, only the two of them survived the evening because of the warmth they shared. Survivors would use this “making an oven” when needing to warm each other. This is the message for our children: Giving to others help those around you but helps you even more. Give your children an identity that is meaningful, useful and one that you as a parent can be proud of.
M Gary Neuman is a New York Times best-selling author, rabbi, and creator of Neuman Method Programs. He was on the Oprah show 11 times as well as having made multiple appearances on Today, Dateline, the View, NPR and others. Oprah referred to Gary as “One of the best psychotherapists in the world.”