I realize there may not be widespread empathy for the challenges and issues facing children of wealthy families, and especially children of the so-called 1% – those in the upper 1% of household wealth. However, I would like to give voice to an issue wealthy parents should be thinking about and finding ways to speak to their kids about: the strong bias against children of the wealthy. This does not necessarily mean only the ultra-high net worth or even high net worth – it can simply be those who are notably better off than the other middle class families in an average neighborhood. Although as wealth grows so too, it seems, do the negative reactions against it.
Take, for example, the Instagram feed, “Rich Kids of Instagram,” that shows wealthy children openly displaying excess. These photos are widely used on social media to criticize and condemn wealth and children born into it. Envy and jealousy often lead people to want to tear down others who have more than they do (particularly when those with more flaunt it and behave badly).
Let’s face facts: children raised in poverty have much more significant and fundamental struggles in life than wealthy kids. No doubt about it. However, kids of wealth have challenges to face that should not be ignored or minimized. And it certainly does not help open a conversation among wealthy parents raising children when rich kids and their parents use the concept of “affluenza” as a defense against horrific behavior, seeking to avoid accountability.
The Instagram photos and “affluenza” defenses often push parents into feelings of shame and secrecy when open communication, certainly within the family itself, is exactly what these children need – starting at a young age and in creative and developmentally appropriate ways. My family clients and I find it engaging and useful to work through exercises I designed to help parents have open, healthy conversations about wealth and responsibility. I guide them through telling family stories and lessons learned across generations, articulating important family values and ensuring they are put into action, and discussing money and its meaning and how it is incorporated into a healthy life. The foundation starts with simple parenting behaviors with kids as young as one year (see my April 2015 blog and the “Golden Sippy Cup Rule”).
In my work with financially successful families I see a lot of things including stereotypically spoiled, self-centered, aimless children (and young adults, and older adults). However, I’d like to focus on something else I see – very well-adjusted children raised amidst affluence by parents who put values first, have solid, clear expectations and place material wealth in context for their kids. Not only is it possible to achieve, but these families are often part of diverse and enriching communities and strive to make the world a better place.
Parents in affluent families need to educate their children about the special economic circumstance they are born into so these kids will understand the negative stereotypes certain to be hurled at them. Ideally they will not play into them and ultimately will use their good “fortune” to make a positive impact.
Here are some related readings for affluent families and the advisors who serve them:
Children of Paradise, Lee Hausner, Ph.D.
Raising Financially Fit Kids, Joline Godfrey
Silver Spoon Kids, Eileen Gallo, Ph.D. & Jon Gallo, Ph.D.