By the time these words come in contact with your eyes, you likely will have heard about “Affluenza”. For those who haven’t, and thereby still possess the portion of sanity now lost to the rest of us, allow me to ruin your day. Back in June a 16-year-old in Texas, fortified with stolen beer and valium, took seven friends on a joyride in a huge pick-up truck, which he lost control of at high speed, which then fatally mowed down four other motorists (along with other carnage) stranded on the side of the road with car trouble.The young man’s therapist argued to the presiding trial judge that his client was not fully responsible for this horror because his wealthy parents failed to raise him with any boundaries or restrictions and spoiled him throughout his life. This resulted in a lack of impulse control and a skewed moral compass in the boy or “Affluenza.” Now, let your mind collapse on itself as it puzzles over the logic that inspired the judge to then (having accepted the therapist’s analysis that the driver is a victim of never having been punished by his parents for his bad acts) grant “punishment” consisting of probation and rehab- a sentence only slightly weightier than helium.
Now look. I’m sure that this therapist is a sincere and responsible actor in all of this. (I’m not at all sure of this.) I’m certain that he didn’t defend his client on these grounds only after he came up with what he thought was a clever, marketable name for a non-existent disorder. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what he did.) What I’m not sure about is whether all of us, and by “us” I mean everyone except this therapist and this judge, can one-hundred percent agree that “Affluenza” is weapons-grade nonsense of the lowest order.
And we need to agree on this, because this blame-shifting stuff is already out of hand. Believe me, I know that therapists have been responsible for a great deal of it, but I don’t feel a lot of professional solidarity with people who make my job harder. It wasn’t as though, before this idiot got his 15 minutes, we had every reason to marvel at the studious nature, self-starting industriousness, and moral character of our teenagers. “It’s almost as though they raise themselves,” was not a common refrain. When you read or hear about the concept of adolescence being extended well into a “child’s” 20’s and beyond, do you think, “Balderdash!,” or, “Wait, is that why my 25-year-old is upstairs playing the X-Box, and eating cereal, under the watchful gaze of his little league trophies at this very moment?” If you responded with the old-timey expression, then you are, ahem, mature enough to have noticed the tectonic cultural shift in what we’ve come to expect from our young. We need to start expecting more from our teenagers, not less, even if the poor things are choking a bit on their silver spoons.