It's Called Childhood Overindulgence Not Affluenza!

Ethan Couch killed four people and he got off by claiming he had affluenza.

Posted Jul 01, 2019

Some call it Affluenza. Others call it spoiling. I call it childhood overindulgence. What is the difference? Are we just talking semantics? I don’t think so. Words really do matter. Let me take a moment to define each and point out some important differences.

Pixabay/License CC0
Source: Pixabay/License CC0

Definition Of Affluenza

Affluenza: “A psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.”

The term affluenza dates to the 1970s and is a blend of two words; affluent and influenza. The term was popularized by an Oregon Public Broadcasting TV special, a book titled “Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic”, and by Ethan Couch who at age 16 drove drunk killing four people and injuring a total of nine. His attorney successfully argued that he had affluenza and needed rehabilitation instead of prison. He has since become the poster-boy for the term “affluenza.”

Definition Of Spoiling

Spoiled Brat: “A spoiled child, spoiled brat, or simply a brat is a derogatory term aimed at children who exhibit behavioral problems from being overindulged by their parents.” More specifically, it is to “Harm the character of (someone, especially a child) by being too lenient or indulgent” according to the Oxford Dictionary.

This term is most often used to describe a child’s behavior, one who is acting out or throwing a temper tantrum. Tantrums occur most often in young children and tend to decrease with age.

Definition Of Childhood Overindulgence

How Much is Too Much? Raising Likable, Responsible, Respectful Children—From Toddlers to Teens—In An Age of Overindulgence, a book based on ten research studies with 3,531 adults, describes overindulgence this way: 

Overindulging children is giving them too much of what looks good, too soon, and for too long. It is giving them things or experiences that are not appropriate for their age or their interests and talents. It is the process of giving things to children to meet the adult’s needs, not the child’s.”

Overindulging children is done in three ways.

Too Much. Too much of anything: food, clothing, lessons, sports, entertainment, and attention, anything that is over the top. Too much leads to a lack of appreciation.

Overnurture. Call it over parenting, helicopter parenting, or by any name that tells you someone is doing things for children that they should be doing for themselves. Overnurture leads to helplessness.

Soft Structure. Lax boundaries, no rules, or rules not enforced. Low expectations. Soft structure leads to irresponsibility.

How Childhood Overindulgence Differs From Affluenza And Spoiling?

The concept of childhood overindulgence is more comprehensive than either the terms of affluenza or spoiling. Here are some differences:

  1. Affluenza sounds like an official medical condition or ailment, but it is not. You won”t find the term affluenza in any medical dictionary or the DSM-V.
  2. Affluence and wealth do not “cause” the condition affluenza. Many individuals who are wealthy or came from affluent families have not been overindulged. Our research shows that childhood overindulgence is caused by a continuous pattern of behavior on the part of parents and other people who care for children.
  3. The term “spoiled child” is a derogatory term, whereas the term overindulgence is not.
  4. Being “spoiled rotten” usually refers to a child’s tantrum or inappropriate behavior. Childhood overindulgence originates from some unresolved issue a parent is struggling with. For example, “I feel guilty because I work too much and never see my children.” “My oldest child died and I am scared something terrible will happen to my other children.” “Our divorce is final and I don’t have custody. I only get to see them every once in a while.”
  5. Childhood overindulgence can occur in both functional and dysfunctional families.
  6. Childhood overindulgence occurs in one, two, or all three ways.
  7. Research on the effects of affluenza and spoiling is hard to find, in contrast, there is a growing body of scientific research on childhood overindulgence.


We should use the term “Childhood Overindulgence” instead of “Affluenza” or “Spoiling.

Related Articles

What Is Childhood Overindulgence?

Childhood Overindulgence: Too Much, Way Too Much

Over-nurtured: Am I Too Involved In All That My Child Does?

Do all things with Love, Grace, and Gratitude

© 2019 David J. Bredehoft


Bredehoft, D. J., Mennicke, S. A., Potter, A. M., & Clarke, J. I. Perceptions attributed by adults to parental overindulgence during childhoodJournal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education16(2), 3-17.

Oxford University Press. Definition of Affluenza. Retrieved August 24, 2018, from

Oxford University Press. Definition of Spoil. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from