Data collected on 10th grade children of the affluent that were followed through high school showed that their use of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and hard drugs was significantly higher than comparable inner city high school students, and also higher than national norms (Luther & D’Avanzo, 1999). Children of the affluent also suffered from higher anxiety and depression than inner city kids. Compared to national average, suburban girls were three times more likely to report suffering from clinical levels of depression.
Data on rich kids but not on inner city kids suggested that there was a link between substance abuse and depression, which meant that these kids were trying to self medicate and such behavior tends to continue over time instead of dropping off after teen years.
Data on 6th and 7th graders children of affluent demonstrated that even at 7th grade, girls suffered from clinical depression that was twice as high as national average (Luthar & Becker, 2002). 7% of 7th grade boys reported consuming alcohol to the point of intoxication or smoking marijuana at least once a month. There was also a correlation between substance abuse among boys and peer popularity.
There are two potential reasons why privileged kids might be so troubled. The first reason is having high achievement pressures, where children see their academic failures as personal failures and suffer from depression and substance abuse (Luthar & Becker, 2002). Privileged kids whose parents overemphasize their accomplishments instead of valuing their character also report suffering from depression and anxiety.
The second reason for privileged kids being troubled is physical and emotional isolation from adults (Luthar & Latendresse, 2005). Secondary school students from upper middle class families are usually left home alone with parents believing that this would promote self sufficiency. Suburban kids are also usually shuttled from one after school activity to another, leading to physical and emotional isolation for the kids.
Even with all this data, one might argue that kids of the affluent are still going to be better off later in life since the parents have many resources at their disposal to fix these problems. Unfortunately, the situation is more troubling than that. Parents usually know when their kids are suffering from depression, but don’t tend to seek professional help unless the symptoms of depression somehow becomes inconvenient for them (Puura et al., 1998).
Upper class parents also tend to shy away from seeking help for psychological issues because of privacy concerns and concerns about being embarrassed (Luthar & Latendresse, 2005). Even when wealthy youth report suffering from distress, their symptoms are dismissed since rich kids are presumed to not really needing any help (Luthar & Sexton, 2004).
Even when kids of the affluent do receive high quality mental health care, this does not substitute for their relationship with their parents. Research has shown again and again that psychological therapy of any kind will not lead to positive outcomes as long as a child’s everyday life that is the source of these problems remains unchanged (Knitzer, 2000).
Knitzer, J. (2000). Early childhood mental health services: A policy and systems development perspective. In J.P. Shonkoff & SJ. Meisels (Eds.), Handbook of early childhood intervention (2nd ed., pp. 416-438). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Luthar, S.S., & Becker, B.E. (2002). Privileged but pressured: A study of affluent youth. Child Development, 73, 1593-1610.
Luthar, S.S., & D’Avanzo, K. (1999). Contextual factors in substance use: A study of suburban and inner-city adolescents. Development and Psychopathology, 11, 845-867.
Luthar, S.S., & Latendresse, S.J. (2005). Children of the affluent: Challenges to well-being. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 49-53.
Luthar, S.S., & Sexton, C. (2004). The high price of affluence. In R.V. Kail (Ed.), Advances in child development (Vol. 33, pp. 126-162). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Puura, K., Almqvist, F., Tamminen, T., Piha, J., Kumpulainen, K., Raesaenen, E., Moilanen, L., & Koivisto, A.M. (1998). Children with symptoms of depression: What do adults see? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 39, 577-585.