The discount giant, Target, had a snappy advertising campaign that was featured on television and in its stores. To the strains of the Roy Orbison classic, "You Got It," Target encouraged consumers to come in for "anything you want" and "anything you need." While most of us can easily distinguish between needing toilet paper and wanting jewelry, when it comes to making purchases for our kids, the lines quickly blur.
Does your child pass a store window exclaiming that she "needs" the latest American Girl doll or the newest limited-edition Disney DVD? Do you find yourself believing that your children need things that clearly will not affect their health, education, or welfare on any level? And despite all your purchases, do you find that your child is often bored and bases his self-worth on what he wears and how much he has?
"You can count true needs on one hand, and you've got an endless supply of wants," says Gary Buffone, a leading advisor to the affluent and author of Choking On The Silver Spoon .
What is Affluenza?
Buffone counsels families who have found that although their children have every material comfort, the children are still unhappy, unmotivated, and unproductive. Experts have coined the term "affluenza" to describe this overwhelming preoccupation with material goods and the emptiness that too much "stuff" engenders.
In their 2002 book, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, John DeGraaf, David Wann, and Thomas Naylor define affluenza as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste, resulting from the dogged pursuit of more."
Buffone says, "I see affluenza is getting worse. I get more and more calls expressing this concern."
"What you are going to see is that there is going to be an increase in the number of wealthy families in the country over the next few years. You are going to see more and more of these problems."
The problem of affluenza isn't limited, however, to the upper classes in this country. Middle and working classes find themselves caught up in a spiral of never-ending shopping trips and out-of-control credit card bills, all because they are trying to keep up with the neighbors and other parents in their children's schools.
Kathy Vance, a 40-year-old mother of two in New York City, says that while it seems understandable that rich people will spend lots of money, "I'm more interested in why the parents who seem to be more strapped for cash will let kids have everything they want. It beats me." She adds that she finds it amusing that her middle class friends complain about storage when they've bought their children everything that is now cluttering their houses.
"By teaching (children) that they can have what they want when they want it, you are setting them up for a lifetime of misery. Sure, you might get a Prada bag, but you might not get the guy you want," says Jessie O'Neill, founder and director of The Affluenza Project, president of The Affluenza Healing and Education Foundation, Inc., and a licensed therapist.
O'Neill says that the major symptoms of affluenza include the inability to delay gratification and tolerate frustration.