Leyla Sanai

Why rich kids are weird

Wealth doesn’t necessarily breed happiness

  • From Spectator Life

The son of the celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, imaginatively named Marco Pierre White Jr, has been convicted of theft and sentenced to 41 weeks in prison. The former heroin addict briefly became a reality star after a stint on Celebrity Big Brother, but has since reverted to bad behaviour, being imprisoned in 2018 for stealing from Tesco and racially abusing a security officer. 

His conviction this time was for taking £1,760 worth of clothes from a shop in Bath, £72 from a Sports Direct in Bristol, and £250 from the till at a deli in Bath. He was caught because of an unedifying complication as he climbed out of the deli window: his trackie bottoms were pulled down and his hoodie pulled up, so he emerged almost naked, like a peeled sausage. 

The children of the wealthy are not motivated to succeed in life because they know they will never run short of dosh

His sentencing comes days after Hunter Biden’s conviction for lying about his drug use on a federal form when he bought a gun. Of course, kids go off the rails in all sorts of families, but when a rich child becomes a criminal, the public generally takes notice. It is not an uncommon phenomenon. Look at Ghislaine Maxwell, blessed with beauty and a fortune, the latter inherited from her father Robert. 

Psychologist Suniya Luthar has found that affluent teenagers had higher incidences of drug abuse and binge drinking than the teens from deprived homes. She also found that the types of crime committed in the two groups were different, with rich children being far more likely to cheat or commit random acts of delinquency, while their less wealthy peers were more likely to carry a weapon for self-defence. Her team found that anxiety, depression, and self-harm were more common in the children of wealthy parents.

There are multiple reasons for the pressure felt by the children of the highly successful. Some of this pressure comes from the parents, who wish to see their children replicate their successes. People who are extremely wealthy tend to catastrophise the possibility of not being affluent. The parents may have memories of growing up in relative poverty and want to stress to their children the need to work hard and follow a career path that will lead to job security and riches. Most of them care deeply about their children and are also loving, but affection and love do not mitigate the stress of pressure.

Someone who has excelled in a particular field like sports or cookery may feel frustrated if their child does not show similar talents. But the pressure is not only from the parents. Children of the wealthy tend to be sent to fee-paying schools which are often academic hot houses. It is more difficult to come top in a class of hard-working and motivated children. 

Luthar’s research showed that peer pressure exerts huge amounts of stress on many children. Girls at fee-paying schools feel a much greater need to be attractive than girls in non-fee-paying ones, perhaps because money means it is at least possible to pay your way to better looks. My own state school had a school uniform until the sixth form. I had to wear a skirt that was four sizes too big because by the time my mother visited the uniform shop, they had run out of all but the giant size. But wearing an oversized tent was nothing compared to the stress of having to wear my own clothes at sixth form. Luckily, by then, I was earning great money writing for the New Musical Express, but not all teens are as lucky.

The researchers found that girls at fee-paying school faced the double pressure of having to succeed at traditionally male dominated pursuits like sports while still being expected to show traditional female traits like kindness and good behaviour. It’s not for nothing that female ADHD failed to be recognised for many decades because fidgety boys were seen as needing help, but dreamy girls were simply scolded for being inattentive.

Boys too were found to be operating under huge pressure from peers. Being popular at school is often proportional to prowess at sports, success with the opposite sex, and being seen to be fun out of school – which, for teenagers, is often related to use of alcohol, drugs or acts of law-breaking. No one ever fancies the goody goody. Such is the desire to be seen as cool that boys from affluent families wanted to be seen as players, encouraging them to exhibit a lack of care for girls. The study found that scores for narcissism and exhibitionism were much higher in the sons of affluent families at private school than they were in a more diverse group. Intense drive can also create barriers to friendship, while scores for envy, depression and lack of self-esteem are higher than average.

So how can high-achieving parents minimise these problems in their children? Literature on bringing up children stresses the importance of telling children to do their best rather than urging them to come top of the class. If children are simply pushed to achieve academically, hopelessness and low mood can set when they fail. But if they are encouraged to be thoughtful and kind, to not judge others by shallow criteria such as wealth or appearance, and to work hard in the topics that genuinely interest them, they are much more likely to be well balanced.

Of course there is also the possibility that the children of the wealthy are not motivated to succeed in life because they know they will never run short of dosh. An appreciation for the value of money is only ever gained when you’ve worked for it. However wealthy or successful a parent is, it’s always a good idea to encourage teenagers to earn their own money with a weekend or holiday job. It’s only through drudgery that you are motivated to find something you love doing. I hope that Pierre White Jr will reflect on this in his 41 weeks at His Majesty’s pleasure.

Written by
Leyla Sanai
Dr Leyla Sanai is a Persian-British writer and retired doctor who worked as a physician, intensivist, and consultant anaesthetist before developing severe scleroderma and antiphospholipid syndrome

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