Pamela Bolen, a therapist, was recently counseling a wealthy family on its money issues when she discovered trouble brewing with the family's teenage daughter. The girl was absolutely furious with her parents because she wanted them to buy her two Coach purses, and yet they'd bought her only one. She had thrown a fit in the Coach store, screaming that her parents could certainly have afforded both.
"This was a 14-year-old girl who felt very entitled," says Bolen, who practices in Southlake, Texas. "It's a recurring theme I see with wealthy families: The children have a sense of entitlement because they believe that since their parents are wealthy, they're wealthy."
Another family she works with was once late for its therapy session after the daughter had a tantrum in Neiman Marcus because her parents refused to buy her the shoes she wanted. Even after they wound up buying them, she still wouldn't stop screaming. Bolen says she wouldn't see the family again until they returned the shoes.
The problem, says Bolen, is that these parents can't say no. By not setting boundaries or establishing values, they're creating very irresponsible, unproductive adults. She says she sees a lot of wealthy families in which adult children in their 30s and 40s are still living under their parents' roof, relying on them for money, without ever having received an education or a job.
"I've told parents, 'If you want your kids living with you until you're in assisted living, keep giving them everything they want, whenever they want,'" Bolen says.
She recommends that her clients have their children do community service, like volunteering at a homeless shelter, to give them perspective. She also advises them to withhold money until the children show the right amount of appreciation for what they're receiving.
"Half of them can do it, and half just cannot. They can't deal with their adult child or teenager being upset with them," Bolen says.
If the parents do start saying no, the children can become so angry that they can even turn their rage on people like Bolen. She says that on more than one occasion she's checked under her car after leaving work to make sure no one had tampered with it.
Louise Marie Cole, a certified wealth consultant and family governance advisor in Toms River, N.J., believes children in wealthy families sometimes lack values because their parents aren't around to give them any. The parents work so much, it's sometimes the housekeeper or nanny who is actually raising them. The parents just give the children what Cole calls, "Shut up money."
"It's easier to give your kids things than to actually be a parent," Cole says.