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By Gary W. Buffone, Ph.D. – Curing the Silver Spoon Syndrome  Five Laws to Protect Your Children

The Five Immutable Laws of Financial Parenting

Parents need to recognize that they have just as much of a duty to fulfill their children’s non-material needs’for love, discipline, guidance and belonging–as we do to fulfill their needs for food, medicine and shelter, and certainly anything beyond. For it is by these non-material gifts that we grant them safe passage into adulthood.

These five laws can serve as reliable guides for every decision about kids and money.

  1. #1: The Law of Necessity – DON”T give them more material comfort than they absolutely need!
  2. #2: The Law of Loving Limits – DO fulfill these nonmaterial needs’especially their need for no.
  3. #3: The Law of Reciprocity -DO insist that they earn what they receive.
  4. #4: The Law of Fiscal Responsibility – DO teach them money management!
  5. #5: The Law of Example – DO practice what you preach!

From Dr. Buffone’s book, Choking on the Silver Spoon: Keeping Your Kids Healthy, Wealthy and Wise in a Land of Plenty, Simplon Press.

Bob and Joanna Gray love their life.  But that hasn’t always been the case.  Bob is well into recovery from what most would consider the ultimate dream, having inherited a hefty sum from his grandmother at the tender age of 18.

My dad fought with my grandmother over her giving us kids all this money. At the time I really didn’t see what the big deal was at the time.  But I learned having too much money handicaps motivation.  I never had to work out of necessity and dropped out whenever things got tough.  Its taken these experiences and having my own kids to really understand why my father was so worried.  I want to make sure what we have enriches our children’s lives and doesn’t hurt them.

Now a parent himself, Bob has come to know all too well the risks and responsibilities that come with wealth.  And like so many other fortunate parents, he and Joanna question how affluence will affect their own kids.  Are our children, who seem to have everything, happy and building positive values and self-esteem?  Do they have a healthy appreciation for money and things and will they willing to work hard to earn them?  Will they handle money responsibly and will they be able to stand on their own two feet economically one day? 
The Gray’s are not alone in their concern.  In a recent survey conducted by U.S. Trust, parents number one concern is how their affluence will negatively impact their children.  Clearly, affluent parents are conflicted, says Jeffrey Maurer, president of U.S. Trust, On the one hand, like all parents, they want to give their child the advantages they can afford.  On the other hand, they don’t want to undermine their children’s initiative and ability to succeed on their own.  And more and more parents will face this concern as it is predicted that the affluent population in America will increase at a rate five to seven times faster than the household population in general.

People like Bob remind us that money is not an instant recipe for happiness, and in fact, it generates special challenges all its own. His story represents just one example of a how such a group of seemingly advantaged kids can become cut-off from life’s traditional responsibilities and rewards. Lacking conventional ambition and having not yet developed a core identity or purpose, these children of affluence can find themselves lost and disoriented.  Without normal goals and productive work as anchors, they run the risk of drifting into a special, yet twisted view of reality, and then into despair.

At what point should parents become truly concerned?


If you’re like many parents today, the odds are that you’ve recognized some of the warning signs of affluenza in your own kids. Is your brilliant young son inexplicably flunking out of school? Has your teenage daughter tearfully demanded you buy her a new BMW convertible so she won’t be embarrassed driving your car to school?  Perhaps your grown child doesn’t call anymore because he’s angry that he’s not receiving what he feels he deserves from your estate. Or were your hopes dashed when your grown daughter spent your last cash gift on drugs and clothes?

These are all children infected with affluenza.  So just what is the Silver Spoon Syndrome and how can parents spot it?

The Silver Spoon Syndrome is all about kids raised by parents who have used more dollars than they have good sense.  Often well intentioned in trying to give their children the best, parents mistakenly focus on providing them a materially good lifestyle while shortchanging them on their time and nurturing.  In today’s frenetic, Madison-Have-A-New oriented culture, it’s a trap parents can fall into before they even realize it.
To check whether your kids may suffer from the Silver Spoon Syndrome, answer these five questions.

1.    Have you found yourself concerned that your kids lack any real motivation, ambition, and drive?

2.    Does your child pout, throw tantrums, or quit when they don’t get their way?

3.    Are you ever annoyed by your child’s demands and their the world owes me attitude?

4.    Have you run into your kids bounced checks, burned-out credit cards, bad credit histories or pleas for the next big bailout?

5.    Are your kids stuck on the most expensive designer labels, latest electronics, newest car, as if the best off everything is the only thing that can make them happy?

If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, then you likely have cause to worry, for these are the five cardinal signs of the Silver Spoon Syndrome: persistent underachievement, low frustration tolerance, narcissistic entitlement, financial irresponsibility, and distorted values.

Sound familiar?  Fortunately, all of these dysfunctional behaviors and beliefs about money are learned, and therefore can be either prevented or corrected, no matter what your child’s age or stage in life.

So how can parents protect their kids from the scourge of the Silver Spoon Syndrome?


Start Early

The best advice I can give parents is to start teaching kids about money early, offers Kristin McLauchlan, President and CEO of Legacy Trust Company located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Many children today have little understanding of the value of money or what parents do to earn it.  I believe parents need to immerse their children in money matters from a very young age.

It’s been said that the time to start teaching kids about money is the day that they stop eating it.  A good time to start is around age three, as long as you keep the lessons fun and short.  Play money recognition games, set up a pretend toy or candy store and switch playing customer and shop owner, explain your transactions at the store or ATM.  As soon as your child can count to ten, start an allowance and begin teaching responsible spending by having them split their earnings evenly between savings, spending for things they want, and charitable giving of their choosing.

Habits, good or bad, begin early.  So start your children on the road to fiscal literacy as soon as you can.

Make Them Earn

If your child acts as though the world owes them, without any reciprocity on their part, they’ve developed this classic Silver Spooner trait. Children who exhibit this symptom are commonly called spoiled.

Psychiatrist Robert Coles, in his book Children of Crisis: The Privileged Ones, found that virtually all wealthy families communicate a message of entitlement to their offspring, conveying that they have a right to money, power, and status purely by virtue of their birth, rather than by their achievement.  This same privileged upbringing often shelters affluent children from real-world consequences, with their behaviors seldom challenged or shaped by the real world.

To combat this, parents must make their kids earn whatever they receive, particularly all the extra goodies and privileges kids may have come to expect and think they deserve.  Although young children do deserve a parent’s love and attention, good medical care, reasonable limits, and food and shelter to age 18; beyond that, everything else is gravy.

Parents must also reinforce the effort-reward connection at every opportunity.  Build an atmosphere of absolute real-world accountability and make your kids be responsible for their behavior, no matter what the consequence. Save the sermons and let their experience become their guide.

Encourage Independence
Owen and Pam Margate were fed up. Their son Brad, 24, was still living at home with no plans, direction or savings.  Owen, a corporate attorney, and Pam, a family physician, both from middle class backgrounds, had worked hard to give Brad the best.  Two failed colleges, three totaled cars, and one DWI arrest later, the Margate’s had finally realized maybe the best just wasn’t good enough.

We were at our wits end, shared Owen.  After talking to a professional, we decided to try some financial shock therapy.  No more handouts or bailouts. He’ll have to get a full-time job and start paying rent or make plans to move out.

After some fussing over the new arrangement, Brad found a job and got out on his own. He didn’t believe us since we’d threatened him many times before, but we’ve stuck to our guns and now he’s working and starting to talk about going back to school. Maybe there’s hope after all.

If you find your young adult stalled on the launch pad of life, begin realigning incentives to encourage them to take on greater responsibility and independence.  Do yourself and your kids a real favor by turning that cozy nest into an empty nest.

Give Well
As we saw in Bob’s case, a gift is only a gift if given responsibly.  Responsible parents and grandparents carefully plan their giving to make sure their gifts are tailored to the specific needs of their offspring.  Parents need to be objective in looking at their children and plan accordingly, says Anne Buzby, Trust and Estate attorney at the law firm of Rogers Towers in Jacksonville, Florida.  Honestly assess your children’s maturity level, their financial savvy, and any personal vulnerabilities or problems before you make any major decisions about passing on your estate.

Try to avoid the four biggest mistakes parents make in wealth transfers to children; too soon, too late, too tight and too much.  Too soon means giving large cash gifts to children before they’re psychologically ready to handle them.  Too late means putting off estate planning until the parents die or are disabled, leaving the kids to settle complex and often contentious issues as they are awash in grief.  Too tight means trying to control kids by conditioning their gifts on a host of unreasonable demands.  Too much involves giving gifts independently of the children’s true need or true character.

Give wisely and leave your children a legacy that money alone can never buy.

The Gray’s are living proof that wealth can be handled responsibly.  We can learn from their experience that even when mistakes are made, growth and change are possible.  Even though we’ve certainly learned quite a bit from our experience so far, says Joanna, we’re still a work in progress. There’s still a lot we can learn that we want to pass on to our own kids


Jim Taylor

Jim Taylor, PhD is the author of eight books, including his latest, Your Children are Under Attack: How Popular Culture is Destroying Your Kids' Values, and How You Can Protect Them (Sourcebooks), from which this article is adopted, and Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child (Hyperion). He has worked with young people, parents, and educators for 20 years. He has been a consultant and frequent speaker to numerous elementary and secondary schools, youth-sports programs, and performing-arts organizations around the country. Dr. Taylor has appeared on NBC's Today Show, Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends, UPN's Life & Style, ABC's World News This Weekend, and major television network affiliates, and has participated in many radio shows and national print publications. Sign up for Dr. Taylor's free bimonthly e-newsletter, Kids & Culture Alert! TaylorFamily FinanceAges and Stages,Emotional and Social Well-being,Family Finance - Ways to Save Money,ParentingBy Gary W. Buffone, Ph.D. - Curing the Silver Spoon Syndrome  Five Laws to Protect Your Children The Five Immutable Laws of Financial Parenting Parents need to recognize that they have just as much of a duty to fulfill their children's...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids