More Than Money
Issue #24

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

Table of Contents

“Affluenza and Au Pairs”

by Jessie O'Neil

Children of affluence display some of the personality traits often ascribed to children of poverty. The traits that we struggle so valiantly to overcome (often well into our adulthood) are:

  • The inability to delay gratification
  • The inability to tolerate frustration
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • A false sense of entitlement
  • Low self-worth
  • Loss of future motivation

Many of these traits stem from ineffectual and poor parenting and a culture that condones and encourages surrogate caretakers for our children and our old people. In both wealthy and poor households, although for different reasons, children are frequently cared for by someone other than a parent, and often no longer a relative. Because we believe so strongly in the myth of the American dream--that money buys happiness and that "just a little bit more" is always better--we are willing to push our children and our parents into the care of strangers. At both ends of the financial spectrum, caretakers often have a high turnover rate. I believe that the era of the "au pair" may be the single most harmful thing, short of outright abuse, that we as a wealthy culture have done to our children.

When the attachment bond a child builds with his or her primary caretaker is repeatedly broken, as is frequently the case, that child eventually becomes unable to attach emotionally to another human being. Sometimes the results are not immediately visible. As our kids approach adolescence we begin to see the destruction that we have unwittingly wrought upon them. These behaviors, without treatment or intervention, frequently continue into adulthood. In addition to the above personality traits, some of these behaviors are:

  • A higher than normal degree of substance abuse
  • An inability to form and sustain intimate relationships
  • An ongoing low level of depression and apathy
  • Difficulty in finding and holding meaningful employment

In the wealthy, much of this dysfunction is due to material satiation and emotional deprivation. In the poor, although the material satiation is not present, the results are strikingly similar.

Jessie O'Neill is a licensed psychotherapist, author of The Golden Ghetto: the Psychology of Affluence, and the Director of The Affluenza Project in Wisconsin. For information on the Project and its newsletter, call 414-351-8442, email , or visit their website at

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