Q. Our daughter married a man with money and a big salary. Our grandchildren are growing up accustomed to having everything they want and more. They get expensive things they don’t ask for. My wife buys them expensive gifts, and they don’t even thank her. I don’t buy big gifts, even though the children sometimes ask for things, because I want them to have a relationship with me that’s based on sharing experiences and not on how much I can buy them. Will this affluent lifestyle affect my grandchildren negatively?

A. Some children grow up all right no matter what their environment is like, rich or poor, drug free or parents on drugs and/or parented well by family or left to self-parent. These children are exceptional. Most children are greatly affected by what their parents and other close family members do or don’t do. Much is being written about “affluenza,”which according to Jessie H. O’Neill with The Affluenza Project is “a harmful or unbalanced relationship with money or its pursuit.”I don’t think you have to be rich to struggle with affluenza, which I believe includes trying to get more and having more and better things than those around you.

Kids who are given everything may end up with symptoms of affluenza, which have been described as including lack of motivation, low self-esteem, difficulty delaying gratification, inability to tolerate frustration, a sense of entitlement and perhaps having no empathy or understanding of the needs of others. Surely your son and his wife don’t want their children to have problems that would accompany these symptoms and the misbelief that the world revolves around them, all of which are characteristics of affluenza—and of narcissism. Children may be much better off if given reasonable presents only for a few special occasions a year, and the rest of the time expected to work for things they want or at least participate in part of the payment. Successfully working to gain what you want builds self-esteem, a sense of pride and the ability to self-motivate. I’d suggest that your daughter and her husband ask themselves the following questions: are our children happier caring about things or about people? Should we focus more on giving the children the opportunity to share of their time and talents with others less fortunate instead of focusing on amassing “things?”Should we provide opportunities for them to earn the things they want? Building character is more important than having more and better toys than others.

You may want to read about affluenza in the book “The Golden Ghetto,”(1997) by therapist Jessie H. O’Neill, who is the granddaughter of Charles Wilson, a past President of General Motors.

Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.

Got a question for Betty Richardson? Email us here and you just might see the answer in an upcoming issue!

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