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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Pace Yourself, Pace Your Kids

Some journalists are using a term when speaking about parents and the problems they have raising their kids today. It’s called “affluenza.” At the court hearing for a tragic auto accident in Texas, where teenager Eric Couch hit and killed four people with his truck, the defense attorneys cited “affluenza” (when one is raised with wealth and never given limits) as the cause for his crime. He’s been sentenced to ten years of probation. The term "affluenza" was popularized in the late 1990s by Jessie O'Neill, in her book "The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence." It has since been used to describe a condition in which children—generally from rich families— have a sense of entitlement, are irresponsible, make excuses for poor behavior, and sometimes dabble in drugs and alcohol.

car accident

Like a disease, affluence, or living as if you have it, can harm a child as they’re growing up. Today, moms are sending birthday invitations out, with a gift registry inside the card, letting guests know where and what gifts to buy their child. Many parents assume they are “poor parents” if they don’t provide their children everything they want.

Obviously, when the bar is set this high, a child’s sense of entitlement increases. They start believing they deserve all the latest gadgets, tablets, smart phones, name brand clothes, expensive tutors and coaches, and costly vacations that are always better than last year’s.

What we’re finding is—this “afflluenza” begins translating into the notion that students deserve good grades just because they showed up, especially if mom and dad paid for this expensive school. Some college students have even sued their alma mater for not guaranteeing a job when they graduated.

I do not claim to be a parenting expert. I develop students and student leaders. But allow me to comment and offer some common sense.

We live in a day of “encore problems.” We expose our kids to so much so early in their life that it becomes difficult to engage them as they move into adolescence. They have been on trips and vacations; they’ve attended amazing ballgames, and they own incredible technology by middle school. What more is there to experience when they grow up?  The problem is, the “more” they want is probably unhealthy.

Parents and teachers must navigate this “affluenza.” We must figure out how to pace our students, exposing them to measured amounts of possessions, and appropriate experiences as they mature. Often, they get exposed to things today before they’re emotionally ready for them. Most elementary kids have watched a sex scene on TV, on a computer, or at the movies. Most have watched violent acts and murders, and seen people do illegal drugs. It’s tantalizing.

What To Do

In his latest book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell discusses how difficult it is to lead kids today, when there is too little or too much money. Obviously, a family living below the poverty line finds it difficult to raise kids well, because their focus is mere survival. They are living paycheck to paycheck. On the other hand, upper middle class and wealthy families find parenting hard because they cannot honestly say to their children who beg them for a new iPhone: “We can’t afford that.”  That moment requires an emotional conversation, where the parent explains to the child why it’s helpful to learn to delay gratification.

Yeah. Good luck with that conversation.

The research tells us that an income of about $70,000 is the median income, to make parenting neither too hard because of poverty or too hard due to wealth. Outside of those lines, we will have to learn to pace our kids. This means our job may change:

  1. Pace the sequence of possessions and experiences, allowing for a bigger and better one, as they mature. For instance, you might plan a trip across the state for them in elementary school, a trip across the U.S. when they’re in middle school, and a trip overseas when they’re in high school.
  2. Don’t fall into the trap of comparisons. Other parents may win brownie points with their kids because they give them too much, too soon. Those kids are “wowed” in the moment, but are over-exposed and may have difficulty managing expectations as young adults. Do what’s right, not what’s popular.
  3. Always have a reason for every “gift” (possession, experience, trip, etc.) that you give your child. Have a plan, to progress into bigger and better “gifts” in the future. I even explained my plan to my kids by the time they reached fifth grade. They realized there was a method to my madness and they “got it.”
  4. Prepare to have meaningful conversations with your young people. Get ready for emotional exchanges as they learn to wait, to listen, to handle envy of their friends, and to save up their own money, perhaps, before getting what they want. This is what maturity is all about.

Just remember, leading students is a marathon not a sprint. In fact, it’s a pace, not a race. Pace yourself. Pace your kids.


Join the celebration for the 10th Anniversary of Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits & Attitudes!



  1. charlene.fonseca on January 13, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Thanks for being a whistle blower, in many respects. I’m sure it’s a thankless job, but yet has its rewards. We live in an anxiety-driven world, and the pressures seem to be endless, but being able to peer at the angles of a difficult prism through someone else’s eyes–I welcome.

    • Tim Elmore on January 15, 2014 at 10:04 am

      Thank you, Charlene 🙂

  2. Jennifer on January 13, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Great article! What about having the kids involved in service work? My parents did a great job of teaching me the value serving those less fortunate which put my mind in a place of gratitude in high school. I also went on mission trips overseas to developing countries which completely took away any sense of entitlement when it came to material goods.

    • Tim Elmore on January 15, 2014 at 10:07 am

      Thank you for commenting, Jennifer! I believe service work is wonderful for kids to be involved with. It teaches them so many life skills.
      I have wrote several articles on the value of students serving others.

    • Tim Elmore on January 15, 2014 at 10:07 am

      By the way – Thank YOU for serving. 🙂

  3. Melanee on June 17, 2014 at 12:22 am

    Great and memorable title, Tim, and so spot on. I’m jotting it down in my life lesson notebook.

    Please do keep pressing your fingers to the keys and sharing your wisdom about our youth. Just today, my daughter asked me for some reading material as she knew she’d have down time at school. I pulled out a few selections, including one of your Habitudes books, and she snatched it up immediately. She loves your stuff and has even discussed it with her friends. So please know that your message is being heard by more than you know and is appreciated.

  4. Sue on June 17, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Someone said, I think it was Dennis Waitley,” the best things you can give your kids is roots of responsibility and wings of independence.” I wholeheartedly agree. I also believe one of the most important things you can do to show your child you love them is to discipline them -give them limits and boundaries and teach them to respect them.

    • Tim Elmore on June 18, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Great quote, Sue. Thank you for sharing.

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Pace Yourself, Pace Your Kids