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When “Poor Little Rich Kids” Really Are Poor Little Rich Kids


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By Haley Vaughan’18, Perspectives Editor

How many times have you heard the phrase money can’t buy happiness? This phrase has been thrown around for ages, but now statistics have revealed that it has never been truer. Researchers have repeatedly proven that low family income is a major cause of stress as well as social, emotional, and behavioral problems in youth. But recently there is a growing disparity in mental wellbeing between middle class youth and upper class youth. CNBC defines the income needed to be considered upper class as follows:

“Upper class Household of one: Minimum of $72,126

Household of two: Minimum of $102,001

Household of three: Minimum of $124,925

Household of four: Minimum of $144,251

Household of five: Minimum of $161,277”

On the surface one would expect these kids to be the happiest. They are the youth en route to high ranking universities and well-paying jobs in America. These are the youth from communities dominated by white-collar, well-educated parents. These are the youth that attend private schools with rich academics, high ACT and SAT scores, as well as a wealth of extracurricular opportunities. We at CCD are that youth. Alarmingly, studies have shown serious levels of maladjustment as teens, displaying problems that tend to get worse as they approach college.

One of the primary reasons upper class youth are so maladjusted is the sheer amount of pressure they are placed under. They are expected to excel not only at school but also in extracurriculars and their social lives. This pressure is only compounded come college application times. Most affluent parents have thrown the best that money can buy to give their kid the best shot. Tutors are hired for classes their kids are struggling in. They send their kids to prep classes for standardized tests. And when money is not an issue, affluent students can take the ACT or SAT as many times as they need to.

Students constantly compare themselves to others. They know who received the AP awards and made Honor roll. They know everyone’s top choices of colleges. And even if these comparisons don’t occur verbally they happen in their heads. Many students feel that just one more point on their GPA, or raising their ACT from a 32 to a 33 will guarantee them success. But even if they raise their score or GPA ,they still are not satisfied. It’s not enough to have a 34 ACT with a 4.1 GPA if they know another student has a 35 ACT and 4.2 GPA.  The problem? Any time a student is not able to achieve their ever more difficult goals, they feel like they failed. This sense of shame plays out in the form of anxiety, depression, and random acts of delinquency.

A 2012 study found that middle-class children have less depression and few delinquency citations than upper-class children. The study concluded that the home life of upper-class youth was a direct cause of the mental issues affluent kids struggle with. Mr. Dearing, a professor at Boston College stated that he believes “it might be because of something that happens in families. Parents make social comparisons and then put exceptional pressure on adolescents.” Parents wanting the best for their children is certainly no crime. But far too often upper-class parents value personal success such as grades or awards over their children’s happiness. It’s not enough to their best. Affluent youth have no choice but to excel. Average is not okay.  

Studies have proven time and time again that parent’s criticism is directly related to adolescents self-esteem. Many parents believe if they buy their kids nice things and have dinner together it’s okay to keep the pressure up. But a few affectionate gestures do not fix years of building anxiety. Further studies are needed but current findings have shown that the stress from high level jobs can cause parents of wealthy kids to have a higher rate of anger issues. Researchers believe that the stats on abuse in affluent families, are much lower than what is true. The pressure to maintain the perfect family causes many parents to keep the abuse hidden while kids fear upsetting their style of living and don’t report it.. Rich kids are human too. That’s a fact many people tend to forget. They may have a big house, a nice car, and attend private schools, but too many lack affection and respect from their parents.

Many people will dismiss troubled, wealthy youth as “poor little rich kids” and their problems as “rich kid problems.” But today’s “poor little rich kids” in high school and in college may someday hold positions of power. Something must be done to help theses rich kids, because like it or not they are some of the people who will shape America in the years to come.

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When “Poor Little Rich Kids” Really Are Poor Little Rich Kids