Depression More Common Among Affluent Teens
> 8/4/2006 9:51:10 AM

In an interview with the Washington Post, psychologist and author Madeline Levine asserts that the pressures and expectations associated with adolescence are much more pronounced among children of the affluent, leading to disturbingly high levels of anxiety and depression. Levine says that, due to the often materialistic and status-obsessed nature of upper-class suburbia, these kids are more likely to experience problems with mental health and drug abuse in their teenage years.Recent research, including this 2005 study, put to rest the myth that inner-city kids are more susceptible to such debilitating factors, with affluent suburban girls three times as likely as their peers to suffer from depression. Levine also believes that many of these girls are reluctant to seek treatment because of concerns about public perceptions of their families, and that over-involved parents are largely to blame:

What affluent parents tend to do is to see the child they wish they had -- not the child they have. Parents have this notion that their child is supposed to be a certain way, because performance is so highly valued in affluent communities. Parental love has become contingent on performance, which is very damaging...Many parents can't stand to see their children unhappy or angry or disappointed, which is part of life, part of growing up.

In an increasingly competitive economy, one can understand financial anxieties, even among those who earn six-digit salaries. And of course, such parents want their children to work hard and avoid these issues if at all possible. But unrealistic demands lead to larger, unintended problems. Levine thinks kids should be encouraged but not placed on a pedestal, and that they should be expected to perform everyday tasks as well as excelling at school and extracurricular activities. Additionally, successful parents should not let professional responsibilities outweigh the time they spend with their children. The old cliche involving poor rich kids who come home to material excess and emotional isolation still applies to large socioeconomic swaths of this country and others. While it seems like wealthier kids would receive more attention from parents and have better access to mental health resources, the opposite can often be true. Authors of the 2005 study weigh in:

So what's to be done? First and foremost, say the researchers, be aware of the costs of overscheduled and competitive lifestyles. Second, understand the risks affluence poses to healthy adjustment of children. And a third measure seems self-evident: Make dinner a command performance for all family members.

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