How cinema shows white rich children dominating their rich white parents.
Photo by Timur Romanoav on Unsplash
Cinema is teeming with badly behaved white kids.
Especially if they are wealthy and live in the suburbs.
Maybe it’s the result of suffering from Affluenza, a malady that suspiciously strikes affluent people and knocks out personal responsibility for any misdeeds. Especially in the movies. I am not a parent, but I have been a teenager. I can tell you parenting is no joke, and parenting a teenager — I can only imagine. As my Mom always said, “At least they saved up their cuteness as babies to hold them through the teenage years.”
Let me be clear. I am not talking about the angry outburst, the screaming of “I hate you!” and other such supposedly normal teenage-adolescent declarations, usually with hormones to blame. I am talking about the bossiness, the moral speeches, threats, chastising, and bullying of affluent white children towards their parents.
An occasional lower-class white person gets away with this type of nonsense behavior but I have yet to see a cinematic teenager of color, or person with disabilities exhibit the same display of entitled tongue-lashing that leaves the parent begging for approval and forgiveness. Maybe a good name for this poor excuse of behavior is Affluenza-White-itis [/waɪt/-aɪtɪs] since Affluenza also screams white entitlement.One might say, “Oh finally, a critical view of wealthy children,” but in effect, it is a backhanded compliment to say that poor people have higher moral standards.
I recently watched “I See You” on Netflix. One scene of the teenage son straight-up bullying his mother made my LICSW innards constrict and recoil. Spoiler alert.(The mom and son are sitting down to dinner in their Affluence-afflicted house).Mom: Could you pass the dressing.(Son sends it flying over).Mom: Did you let in a repairman today when I wasn’t here?Son: (Looks up with venom in his eyes). Jesus, Mom. Is that who it was? Did you screw a repairman?Mom: (Looks up at him from her plate, like an injured fawn). Ok. You’re angry.Son: How could you do that? How could you do that to Dad? Who was it?Mom: Just someone..sweetie…Son: (Cuts her off, leans in, and spouts with loathing). Ohhh you don’t get to call me that. You don’t ever get to call me that again.Mom: (Looking down, subdued). I see how mad you are.Son: (Raises voice). You don’t get to act like nothing happened. You think pancakes and fancy dinners are gonna make it up? (Stands up, screams with a red angry face and tears blotting his face). You ruined our family and you should f$cking pay for it!
I thought he would stab her in the throat with his dinner fork, but he storms out of the room, leaving the Mom looking like a dejected child after a tongue-lashing from the principal.
Bowen, we have a problem! Breakdown in the family system
As a therapist, I would call this type of excessive permissiveness of bad teenage behavior a system malfunction in the family structure. It is not uncommon that children take on adult parenting which can result in a lopsided sense of authority in the family.
In the case of Affluenza-White-itis, the consequence is chaos. Whether we like it or not, parents ought to fulfill a parent role. This means they must insist on discipline, respect, boundaries, and limits enacted by authoritative but not authoritarian styles. In other words, the adults set the limits.
Contrary to what movies try to sell us, the parental role does not include being bulldozed like a doormat in front of Best Buy at midnight on Black Friday.
So, why are these badly behaved teens all over the media, trailed by their docile parents? My guess is that pop culture has fallen prey to the glorification of Affluenza-White-itis, where wealth and race combine to produce offspring in an eternal state of entitlement and innocence due to race and class. These two maladies converged in the case of Ethan Couch whose psychologist blamed his parents for not teaching him right or wrong due to their wealthiness. Affluenza excused him of responsibility for killing four people in a drunk driving incident (Associated Press, 2018).
What’s the flip-side of Affluenza-White-itis
If we accept Affluenza-White-itis, which is not clinically a ‘thing,’ but seems to embody a societal value, we accept that those who are not wealthy ought to know better, and therefore should be punished to the fullest extent of the law for the slightest wrongdoing. If Affluenza actually existed, what would the diagnosis be made of?
Hand Over Your Money!
One might say, “Oh finally, a critical view of wealthy children,” but in effect, it is a backhanded compliment to say that poor people have higher moral standards. This unfounded supposition opens the door to harsh sentences while “innocent” affluent children commit heinous acts without consequence. Does this sound familiar, Kyle Rittenhouse? Affluenza-White-itis forms make a protective shield that presumes perpetual innocence and entitlement inside the home and in the larger society. Read about how white parents can start from the beginning to address this.
Give White Children “The Talk”
Many black families know this societal disbalance and design parenting styles accordingly. Menakem (2017) talks about whuppings that his grandmother gave him as a child,“She whupped us when she felt we had put ourselves in danger, either physically or socially… She whupped us in an attempt to protect us from what she knew could easily harm the young Black bodies in front of her” (p.155).
Although misguided, the whuppings were an attempt to manage racial trauma, and to protect her grandchildren from a reality that would punish any act deemed undesirable with a sharpened sword.
Societal costs of Affluenza-White-itis, ahem, Amy Cooper
Those afflicted by Affluenza-White-itis rarely hear, either from their parents or society, “No, you can’t do that,” or “No, you can’t have that,” which leaves us all at the mercy of the whims and desires of grown children forever, no matter how ridiculous or dangerous.
It comes as no surprise that the United States is teeming with Amy Coopers. Perhaps the word “No” never made it their way. These bratty adults sound the alarm loud and clear. They are not about to take no for an answer now.
Associated Press. (2018, April 3). ‘Affluenza teen’ Ethan Couch leaves Texas jail after nearly two years. The Guardian.
Menakem, R. (2017). My grandmother’s hands, racialized trauma and the pathway to mending
our hearts and bodies. Central Recovery Press, LLC.
Randall, A. (Director). (2019). I see you. [Film]. Bankhead Films, Head Gear Films, Quickfire Films, Zodiac Features.
Bratty Kids So White was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.