The Spreading Affluenza Influenza

In the aftermath of the Texas court decision to give Ethan Couch a cushy 10 year probation period for killing four pedestrians while driving drunk, many experts and curious citizens are wondering what is to come in the wake of such a questionable decision. Will more lawyers cite affluence in defense of their client’s deviant behavior?

Affluenza is a word more likely to be found at than in a psychology textbook—though that may have changed after this court decision.

The word became widespread during the 1990’s when the general wealth of the nation increased at a rapid rate and, in the wake of this economic boom, lead to the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Those “afflicted” with affluenza are brought up around wealth, privilege, and a lack of knowledge of rules and boundaries that should have been established by their parents.

Generally, children of parents who became wealthy from their own ambitions (i.e. did not inherit wealth themselves) are prone to this spreading psychological “disease.” Though is cannot be transmitted, it may appear infectious within a wealthy community in a consumer capitalistic economy.

Unfortunately there may be no immediate cure for such a psychological state—the only solution would be to trust in the parent’s child-rearing strategies, and this outlook doesn’t look good. There will always be families who make it a top priority to be humble, caring, and responsible, but we are all too familiar with the unlucky children whose parents were maybe absent for the majority of their childhood that never grew to understand that drinking and driving, stealing beer, and going on a late-night murder streak is unacceptable. There is a sense of reckless abandonment imbedded in teens of affluent parents, and when recklessness reaches these heights, society would hope that the law has an idea or two on how to stop such behavior from happening again.

Couch’s defense case will undoubtedly be at the forefront of every subsequent under-age drinking and driving incident as well as play a major role in future defense cases dealing with involuntary (or, perhaps, voluntary?) manslaughter cases. What type of message did this northern Texas judge just send to the nation after the verdict was final? That it’s okay to be rich; it’s okay to not know, at age 16, that drinking and driving with a BAC of .24 is illegal?

As many others have wondered, would this same verdict have been handed out to someone less privileged? My thought would be absolutely not. A teen born to a less-affluent family would most likely receive those twenty years of prison, or something equally as severe.

This difference comes down to the timeless tale of the haves and the have-nots. Ethan Couch and his family were able to secure one of the best lawyers in the area, along with the defense psychologist, whereas a teen living in a far less affluent neighborhood would be in no way capable of hiring a private lawyer of an equally high regard.

Hopefully this rash decision will be the first and last of its kind. If there is something to take away from this case decision, it’s that the outcome will not be overlooked and forgotten. In the next few years there will be new research, parenting techniques, sociopolitical debates, and even safety regulations and laws that will ensure that nothing like this is repeated.

Those who are raising young children or plan on starting a family in the future need to be extra conscious of how they view and carry themselves; our actions (or lack thereof) make a huge impression on teen and pre-teen behavior.

In no way are Couch’s actions forgivable, but if anything those who fall victim to affluenza should be pitied for their ignorant, irresponsible, narcissistic behavior due to their lack of knowledge in how the world works because no one took the time to teach them an educational lesson or two—to them it’s just all about the money.

Couch’s punishment? A five-star rehabilitation facility in Newport Beach, California for a cool $450,000 a year for the next decade of his life.

If anything, he will probably think it an extended pre-paid vacation from his parents who can continue to live without ever having to teach their child about the consequences of affluence.

Audrey Strasenburgh

Audrey Strasenburgh

Associate Editor at The Chiefly
Born and raised in Rochester, NY, a graduate of St. Lawrence University with a passion for the sport of rowing. A current rowing coach, avid hiker and skier with the lifetime goal of sampling every beer ever made.
Audrey Strasenburgh
Audrey Strasenburgh
Audrey Strasenburgh
Audrey Strasenburgh

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