Co-Dependency: Affluenza Explained

200-affluenzaKids’ Corner | By Patrick Biron –

With all of the headlines focused on “affluenza,” it is important for all parents and caregivers to consider what might lead to such circumstances. Their legal defense that the child’s upbringing was “too affluent” for the youth to be held accountable should be laughable, and yet, it gets through court. Luckily, there’s a “vaccine” for affluenza if we practice purposeful parenting.

While the term affluenza was purposely picked for its headline potential, the real issue in that court case and many others is what psychologists diagnose as a dysfunctional family exhibiting co-dependent relationships. Co-dependency can have many manifestations, but in this sense it means that the child becomes more attuned to the parents emotions than vice versa, and the parental sacrifice reaches unhealthy and destructive levels. Let’s translate that mumbo jumbo.

I have an eight-month-old, and since being born, he has been 100 percent dependent upon my wife and me. Some would say that our focus and dedication to caring for his needs – at all hours of the night, I might add – is unhealthy for us, but it is necessary and normal for his developmental stage. He’ll grow out of it.

Co-dependency is when this cycle and a one-sided relationship between the parent and child is never broken, even after infancy. Once the child matures to higher maturity levels, it is up to parents to, for lack of a better phrase, cut the cord. Children aren’t infants, but if they are treated as such, they are never forced to deal with negativity or accountability on their own. For a child in a co-dependent relationship, instead of the child altering his behavior to fix his problems, the parents or another person are expected to alter their behavior to achieve that end.

The easiest way to avoid this is to allow logical consequences to happen with the child instead of swooping in to save him, as well as to ensure that the child respects the time and attention his parents dedicate to themselves and their other relationships. In reality, accountability can only be taught if a person is forced to feel and internalize the emotions that go along with reasonable punishments.

It’s natural for a parent to never want their child to hurt or feel sad, but those emotions are critical for their development. I like to say we “manage and minimize” disappointment and sadness, meaning we don’t try to ignore or pretend they don’t exist. By allowing my sons to go through those emotions, acknowledging their reactions and talking about how to deal with them, we are preparing them to do all of that on their own. Don’t let the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction either. Children need to feel that their parents empathize with their emotions.

For my three-year-old son, it’s important for him to realize that while I love him infinitely, that does not meant that he always will get 100 percent of my attention immediately when he wants it. Sometimes when I am talking to Mommy, he has to say excuse me and just wait. If he chooses to drink all of his juice in the first 43 seconds of the car ride, I’m not stopping to buy him more. He can wait until we get home, since he chose to drink all of the juice we had and I warned him not to. It’s easier said than done, I know, because the one sure way to ruin a good plan is to add a screaming child. But, with a little commitment, both my sons and I can avoid the affluenza bug.

If you have a topic or question you’d like covered or simply want more information, e-mail Patrick Biron at