Shrink Rap: Kids with Money

Shrink Rap: Kids with Money

We all know challenges arise from being strapped financially and trying to raise children. We may not be as familiar, however, with issues that surface around children of affluence.

Children brought up in wealthy households sometimes feel isolated and different and are often treated as strange and unapproachable by their peers. In fact, these privileged young people can themselves vacillate between feeling special and superior and guilty and estranged, uncertain as to how to relate to others given their family’s great good luck.

They are often inhibited when asked to talk about aspects of their lives that disclose their financial differences from their peers such as types of family trips, gifts, and other opportunities.

They may have difficulty understanding everyday issues most people experience.

Humility can also be a challenge.

And even if they do have empathy and understanding, affluent children may not appear credible to others.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Many creative ideas and solutions evolve from shifting needs and wants. Having to earn money and support oneself often pushes us to do things outside our comfort zones and to venture into uncharted territory. If all of our financial needs are met, however, we may not muster the courage to expand our boundaries.

There are issues of living up to expectations too.

If the parents have been wildly successful business people, their children often feel a need to be equally as capable, but are intimidated by the prospect of trying. Others may step up to the plate and welcome the challenge. But one thing remains clear: kids who are likely to inherit a great deal of money and other assets have to figure out how to manage those resources or, heaven forbid, squander their wealth and be embarrassed.

I have seen some of these children become young adults, denying their wealth and position and trying to live “like everyone else.” It takes a great deal of maturity to actually “own” one’s position, live with abudance and be responsible and ethical at the same time.

If these children were young when their parents had very little and experienced the accumulation of financial success as the parents improved their position, family members tend to have compassion and humility for different socio-economic groups. (But not always.)

But children raised within families who have enjoyed exceptional wealth over many generations generally need specific help and parenting about how to deal with their lofty situation. The subject has to come up because a large part of the business of living is asset management.

How to help children raised in a rarified world requires much thought, specific teaching and instruction. We are not born knowing how to handle complicated trusts, wills, investments, strategies, business arrangements, legal ramifications of different choices, etc., so we have to learn.

For parents, when to give and when to help is as complicated and confusing as when not to help.

Giving can be enabling and prevent their offspring from learning to solve their own problems. Kids who can live off a monthly allowance or inheritance can become irresponsible and lazy, rather than productive. They can become dependent and give in to a dependent lifestyle. The temperament and capabilities of the child determines whether the abundance of money and assets leads to passivity, hedonism, fear of acting, lack of direction, fear of making decisions, and lack of purpose.

Given help, however, these children can develop an understanding about how to live with wealth, how to manage their affairs in a responsible way, how they can find their own purpose, and how to utilize their unique gifts and capabilities. That may mean they go to work – and it may not. There also may be relatives – cousins, aunts, uncles, and siblings – who work together to perpetuate philanthropy, foundations, trusts, family businesses and help an extended family manage their options.

Not everyone has to reinvent the wheel.

Not everyone who inherits money will be exceptionally good at investments and management.

Summing up, children and young adults who grow up with wealth don’t always just have it made. While they have many blessings for sure, they also have special complications, responsibilities, challenges and often burdens they may otherwise not have chosen.

About Dr. Susannah Smith:

Dr. Susannah Smith

Dr. Susannah Smith is a licensed practicing clinical psychologist and organizational development consultant, with offices in Telluride and Ridgway. She is licensed in Colorado, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. She has conducted workshops on child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault, and is a mediator and custody evaluator. If you would like to contact her, she can be reached at;; or 970-728-5234.

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