We live in a time of unprecedented, voluptuous wealth. It can be measured in all sorts of ways, such as the high school senior driving a new Mercedes Benz or a five-bedroom apartment on Park Avenue. Two of the most successful TV shows running today, Yellowstone and Succession, show the trials and tribulations of trauma and generational wealth.
“In 2000 there were 7,000 households worth 100 million or more, in 2003 there were 10,000 and today, Boston College estimated that number will be between 14,000 or 25,000”. In his recently published book, Richstan, Robert Frank observed that the wealthiest Americans have essentially built their own country within a country, equipped their own concierge doctors, private travel networks, a separate economy, and on some level, a separate language.
At a certain point, the offspring will be the stewards of this wealth, and the question becomes, how will that wealth be used? Just think of how Paris Hilton and Andrew Solomon handled their access to excess. Do you want your child to be the depressed petulant prince or demanding princess?
Generation of Heirs
The truth is, even those bluebloods, who might wear ratty sweaters, pursue eccentric hobbies pretending they don’t have money yet have traveled all around the world makes for many paradoxical distortions. Or the newly rich who want to flaunt their wares to savor their riches that came from hard work and want to give their children all they didn’t have. Neither of the two’s offspring has necessarily been trained to be part of the workforce.
The prospect of a newly expanded generation of heirs that aren’t prepared has spawned an entire industry of financial and estate planners: Wealthbridge Partners (for families who exceed 200 million), Family Wealth Alliance – helps families with staffing -relative solutions which deal with heirs running the business, and Sudden Money Institute as well as a host of mental health services.
Views from a Psychologist
Harris Strayner, a Manhattan-based psychologist who has had a large practice of wealthy children, has indicated, “I think some rich kids just feel like they will never be able to go for the brass ring because someone beat them to it. So they adopt a ‘screw it’ attitude and find themselves full of anger and hostility.” Likewise, Columbia University professor and psychologist Suniya Luther found that in studying children of the affluent, she discovered the rate of clinical anxiety was 5-9 percent higher than the national average. Additionally, for girls, clinical depression was three times the national norm, and drug use exceeded the national average.
What is interesting to note is that wealthy children were both overworked and underworked. While they were held to high standards, trying to live up to their parents’ expectations and take full advantage of all that their extraordinary life had to offer, they were terribly underworked as well, meaning they never had to do anything for themselves. As a result, they lack self-efficacy, existential anomie, and alienation and anguish become their way of the world.
Dealing With Entitled Kids
I remember working with the most remarkable man. Newly divorced, he was wildly successful and was the primary caretaker save housekeeper and nanny for his 7-year-old twins. He marveled at how their sense of entitlement was growing. When asked to make their bed, put their clothes away, etc., they would point to the housekeeper and with complete understanding and say, “that’s not my job; they are paid to do that.”
This brings up an interesting dilemma; research has shown that childhood capacity for work is one of the best predictors of adult mental health and the capacity to love. (George Valliant, 1981) Yet how does one do that? How does one drum in a work ethic to those who do not have to work?
Most advisors have simple answers to this. You make sure kids do have to work. You give them chores, you insist on summer jobs, you restrain from buying them everything, you keep children’s trusts out of their hands till they’re at least 35, more education, a down payment on their house, or a decent business idea. You point them down the road of autonomy.
Yet while chores, Sumner jobs, and rationed trust funds are great to aspire to, they don’t always work in the land of Birken bags, Chanel, or country homes in Malibu or the Hamptons. Oftentimes, we have to give children their allowances and see how they can budget, which brings up the point that the wealthy fall victim to the overindulgent instincts and urges that all parents experience.
What Parents Want
All parents want a better life for their children. All parents, from the time their children are born, fantasize about being able to protect and help them in a sustained way. All parents must abstain at times from giving too much or trying to control the outcome. Take, for example, the recent college acceptance scandals that tried to guarantee acceptance into a world thru money. Likewise, we have seen folks be so controlling in wanting their children to be “mini-me” that the children rebel and act out in deleterious ways. As we have learned, there is nothing wrong with pursuing an alternative vocation. There are many ways to navigate success.
What We Do
In our work with wealthy families, we discretely work had in hand with families and their estate attorneys, money managers, household staff to build bespoke programs and scaffolding that create wellness pods for those loved ones who are struggling to find their way. Our services include parent and youth mentoring, mental health, substance abuse, and overall wellness services designed to help the entire family thrive.
Contact me today to discuss a healing path for you and your loved ones.