Affluent Teenagers - Privilege and Risk

By Miguel Brown

I recently read an article published by the National Institutes of Health about the mental health characteristics of affluent teenagers as compared to teenagers living near poverty.  Before I read the article I assumed that teenagers with the stresses of poverty would have more significant mental health issues than the teenagers of affluent parents.  According to this research I was wrong. Here is the link to the article:

It turns out that the teenagers of the affluent can be at a much higher risk for depression and substance abuse than teenagers from underprivileged families.  Why?  The researchers cited two common problems among teenagers with behavioral and emotional issues from affluent families. 


1.  Pressure to succeed

2.  Isolation (literal and emotional) from parents


It's not surprising that the teenagers of rich families would be under what can be perceived as immense pressures to live up to what their parents have accomplished.  Success can be framed quite narrowly for these children.  Get an Ivy League education and then a high paying and prestigious job.  Anything short of this seems to create emotions of crushing disappointment in teenagers and feelings of inferiority. I feel that a lot of the pressure comes not only from parents but from teachers, coaches, instructors, and other teenagers.  The environment these teenager experience can sometimes be intensely competitive.  For most kids, the ones of average intelligence, average drive, average ambition, and average ability, these high expectations can be experienced as incredibly oppressive in their lives.  For some, unreasonably high expectations, can be a prescription for disappointment and failure. Not everyone is Harvard material!

I think some kids see this kind of thing coming.  Even if they are unable to talk about it or articulate it.  So what does a teenager with limited psychological resilience and emotional strength do?  They respond with depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety, etc... Especially if there is also literal and emotional isolation from their parents!

Kids need your time, your attention and your love.  This is true no matter who you are!  From the lowest of the low to the highest of the high, everyone needs to feel loved and that the belong.  Parent of affluent families are parents just like all the others.  They have serious commitments and responsibilities that do not allow a lot of flexibility.  Sometimes things get so serious that parents can inadvertently do some emotional damage to their kids.  For a normal kid with normal levels of resilience this might put them at risk for behavioral, emotional and substance abuse problems. I know it doesn't feel like it sometimes, especially when all your teen wants to do is be with their friends, but loving and involved parents are the biggest protective factors against the effects of negative mental health symptoms and substance abuse issues. 

I think that balance is the key message behind this research.  Balance your teenagers' real abilities with what the expectations are for them.  Balance your work and personal life so that you give your teens what they needs from you.  For more information on what those things are and how to do it sign up for the Blog and I will send you my free report: 5 Ways to Connect with Your Teen!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  Please comment below and make sure to share this article!

 By Miguel Brown