They are a two-car family living in an affluent neighborhood. With her son, a junior at college, home for the summer, a friend was sharing her car with him. Though he had been unable to get a regular job, he had cobbled together a coaching business with a friend: the two--both college-level athletes--were tutoring neighborhood kids in the fine art of hitting a baseball and kicking a soccer ball.
The timing part of sharing the car was going smoothly enough. What got my friend ticked off was getting into the car in the morning and finding the fuel gauge on empty. Not once. Several times. She insisted her son chip in for gas--not necessarily refill the tank to its upper limits but put some gas in when the tank neared empty.
He didn't want to. He didn't have the money to do it, he said--even though he'd just gotten paid $20 for a coaching gig. She retaliated by setting limits on his use of the car unless he shares in the gas bill.
But the gas is not the real issue. She is worried that her son, surrounded by affluent friends, is picking up a sense of entitlement--something psychologist Gary Buffone, in his book "Choking on the Silver Spoon," describes as "expecting rewards without effort." And Buffone takes that sense seriously. He considers it one of five traits that indicate a serious case of affluenza or, in his words, "Silver Spoon Syndrome." He defines the latter as a set of symptoms "resulting from an inappropriate relationship with money or wealth."
Some of the other traits--a lack of motivation and drive, a low tolerance for frustration, failure to handle money responsibly and overvaluing material things--are hard to distinguish from adolescent ennui. The question for my friend is whether her son still has one foot planted in adolescent rebellion--he's spent two years away at college and has yet to exhibit the academic drive his parents would like to see--or whether he is growing up to be a young man with full blown a case of affluenza.
A reality check on use of the car fits in with one of Buffone's approaches to curing Silver Spoon Syndrome: give your child increasing responsibility. "The only way to break the back of entitlement is to lean on it--hard!" Buffone writes. "Parents must put relentless pressure on kids to make them earn what they get in life."
Given the current price of gas, my friend is applying no small pressure.