A Rich Discussion

Friday’s New York Times ran a fascinating piece on the perils of money for young people. That’s an important topic of discussion in Westport.

But there was an even more specific connection here.

The hook for the story was the shooting murder of a hedge fund manager by his 30-year-old son. Apparently, the 2 had argued over the 30-year-0ld son’s “allowance.”

Writer Ron Lieber posed a few questions that his friends and peers were having:

How does it come to pass that a 30-year-old Princeton graduate still gets pocket money from his parents? What, if anything, went wrong in the way his parents raised him? And is there something about the environment that his mother and hedge-fund-running father raised him in that may have itself been damaging?

Affluent kids have many material things ...

Affluent kids have many material things …

Lieber answered himself:

We still don’t know very much about this one stranger and his mental health. Nor are we likely to ever get a full picture of his family, its values or the relationship between the father and the son. But in the last 15 years or so, academics have spent an increasing amount of time studying the affluent and what can ail them, and there is an emerging consensus that their children often have higher rates of depression and anxiety and elevated levels of substance abuse and certain delinquent behaviors.

Adding that “the well-off are human, too, and if some of their children are hurting, it’s indecent to mock or ignore them,” Lieber noted that academics have added studies of children of wealth, to their previous research into poverty.

He cites psychologist Suniya Luthar. She’s now a professor at Arizona State University, but while at Columbia University she embarked on a longitudinal study that included Westport students.

... and high expectations of "the good life" ...

… and high expectations of “the good life” …

Starting in 1999, Lieber says, she found that teenagers in higher-income families had higher rates of substance abuse of all kinds than those in lower-income ones; that the more affluent suburban kids stole from their parents more often than poorer city youth, and that those with more money were “more likely to experience clinically significant levels of depression, anxiety and physical ailments.” Many of those trends emerged in 7th grade.

According to Lieber, Luthar said that it’s easy for parents to pressure children, resulting in some of the problems cited above:

Many such parents enjoy their fulfilling, prestigious jobs and have a wide network of friends from their top-tier educational institutions. Most of them desperately want the same things for their own children, and why wouldn’t they? “This is the trap we can fall into,” she said.

... but parental pressures can be high.

… but parental pressures can be high.

Luthar notes that one of the most powerful risk factors for youngsters is “being highly criticized by your parents.”

She adds: “The most important thing is to keep ourselves and our children from getting swept up in the movement towards more being better, and the idea that ‘I can and therefore I must.’”

Readers’ reactions to the Times piece run the gamut, from finger-pointing at rich parents to cautions against minimizing real concerns about mental health.

It’s a fascinating story, with an intriguing discussion thread. To add your own thoughts, “06880”-style, click “Comments.”

7 responses to “A Rich Discussion

  1. Raising children is one of the most difficult and most rewarding things that one can do. I am reminded of the saying: “Children don’t come with instruction manuals.” Neither do spouses, friends, bosses or others with whom we interact.

    In almost every instance I’ve seen, parents try to be the best parents they can. The reality is that we are human and we make good and bad decisions. We make decisions that we think are good, but in hindsight may not be so good. Or we make decisions that are neutral, but turn out wonderful.

    I applaud every person who tries their best to be a good parent. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Parenting is a noble endeavor and one that helps shape our next generation.

  2. Studies, generalizations, such as this are complete bunk.

  3. Aside from Mark Mathis’s insightful comments, the silence from the rest of the Westport populace is deafening.

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      Parenting is a deeply personal endeavor, and perhaps parents are being introspective about their own journeys, while trying to be respectful and non-judgmental of others. Sometimes it can’t all be distilled to a pithy comment.

  4. Ann Marie Flynn

    An expression that we heard…almost daily at school…..was “What you are to be, you are now becoming.”
    It covers all possible areas…..good student, bully, pot head, jerk-off, drama queen, working athlete. And also incorporates happy kid, good family member, compassionate youngster, hard worker, liar, etc, etc. etc. Once you know what you are into, this expression can work wonders for you. It’s akin to looking into a mirror and seeing yourself. What do you want to be??
    And remember the other saying….”To thy own self be true”.
    This covers all ages……not just students but parents too.
    We never stop learning….hopefully, the correct way.

  5. Jen Barrer-Gall

    A Staples ’06 grad, I am currently studying at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and feel compelled to comment. The experiences of affluent students in school is a focus of research that has certainly gained attention in recent years.

    For further reading I recommend Elsa Davidson’s “The Burdens of Aspiration,” Denise Clark Pope’s “Doing School,” and Michael Sadowski’s (editor) “Adolescents at School.”

    There will, undoubtedly, be more research to come.

  6. Jen Barrer-Gall

    While the studies I mentioned particularly look at adolescents’ experiences at school, one should keep in mind the way home contexts — and other contexts — influence or impact said schooling. Just food for thought.