SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

May 8, 2014

Our view: The life lesson of 'affluenza'

The wheels of justice can turn in very odd ways, and so it is the situation with the infamous “affluenza” case that sparked national outrage and introduced an apt new term into our vocabulary.

As in the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder case, the criminal court couldn’t seem to deliver justice for the victims. But in civil court, where money is the salve, the outcome was different.

And in the affluenza case, there is a powerful message for parents — don’t act like your child’s friend, act like the adult.

Ethan Couch, is a supremely coddled 17-year-old Texas teen who reportedly never faced a penalty, a grounding or a stern talking-to from his parents for any of his misdeeds. Couch was driving drunk and speeding along at 70 mph in a 40 mph zone when he slammed his pickup into a group of people who were helping a woman with a stalled car. He killed four and injured 10. He, along with seven of his pals, had just stolen two cases of beer from a Wal-Mart.

It was the latest, and apparently the last, in a string of bad behaviors by this Texas teen. Misdeeds in his life had progressed along a path that was headed for just such a tragedy. His parents let him live virtually unsupervised in their mansion, where wild teen parties and unlimited drinking were just part of life. He was protected from brushes with the law and seemed to live above it.

One of the experts at Couch’s trial, psychologist G. Dick Miller, coined the term “affluenza” to describe Couch’s life, an unusually cushioned life in which there were no consequences for anything. Miller now regrets introducing the term, but it certainly has crystallized a very real malady afflicting some of today’s youths ... and parents, for that matter.

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