Privileged Children at Greater Risk

"...Privileged kids can be at greater risk for depression, substance abuse and suicidal behavior than disadvantaged children who live in an inner city."

By: Michael G. Conner, Psy.D,

Central Oregon is a beautiful place to live. But that beauty provides no protection for our children. In fact our natural surroundings may create the illusion to parents that our children are safe from social, family and cultural stress as well as the impact of alcohol and other drugs.

According to Suniya Luthar and Bronwyn Becker at Columbia University, “research over the last 30 years indicates that Americans are twice as rich now but no happier than they used to be. Divorce rates have doubled, the suicide rate among teens has tripled and depression rates have soared.” Their research suggests that affluent and privileged children are pressured, at-risk and there are negative consequences. Too many children feel no sense of purpose, do not feel needed, and are not connected to adults, activities or anything meaningful beyond the relentless pursuit of pleasure. Privileged children from wealthy families appear to be much less happier than children who are raised in poor urban areas.

Life is definitely more stressful for today’s youth. The average onset of depression has changed from age 29 to 13 years old. More youth are admitted into treatment programs in the summer than any other time.

Privileged kids can be at greater risk for depression, substance abuse and suicidal behavior than disadvantaged children who live in an inner city. According to Luthar and Becker, a privileged 11 year old boy can be criticized more by peers for not using alcohol than a 16 year old. Also, the pressure to do well in school, attend a good college and maintain a family’s reputation can put privileged children at greater risk. Children are at greater risk if they have a lot of unsupervised time, don’t want a job, have money anyway, and associate with people who use alcohol and drugs.

According to the U.S. Health Department, approximately 1 out 5 children age 11 to 17 will have a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral problem. Nearly 1 out 10 will be severely impaired. As many as 1 out of 16 will attempt suicide. Approximately 4 out 5 children who need help will never be identified or get help.

Many of these “at-risk” children are finding comfort and making friends by using alcohol, drugs and becoming involved in high risk behavior to escape boredom, anxiety and depression. Research by the State of Oregon would suggest that at least 60% of children who are 16 to 18 years old will be using alcohol and other drugs during the summer; many will on a weekly basis. The consequences of these problems are not something that our school system is equipped or funded to address in the coming school year. The best time to help your child is before the situation and their distress is out of control.

A Constructive Approach to Summer Break

Summer is no time to let children do whatever they want. Children need structure, routines, rules, consequence, rewards and the opportunity to discover and express their potential. Without these things, your child may get into trouble and they will most likely have a hard time returning and adjusting to school next year.

The best approach to summer is for parents to take a positive, responsible and active attitude. Summer break means just this to many kids.

  • No homework
  • No teachers
  • No reason to get up
  • No responsibility
  • No restrictions on television
  • No restrictions on the computer or video games
  • Doing whatever they want

Fortunately, small children don’t want to stay out and run the streets all night. But young children still need structure and a routine during the summer.

Teenagers on the other hand are the bigger challenge because they can easily spend their summer,

  • Hanging with friends
  • Running around unsupervised
  • Racing around in cars with friends
  • Going to parties
  • "Hanging" with kids who use alcohol and drugs
  • Causing trouble for thrills
  • Experimenting with alcohol and drugs
  • Going to bed when they feel like it
  • Sleeping until some time past noon

This kind of behavior is hard to change once it becomes a daily experience. Many teenagers will argue and bend the rules when their parents finally start to set limits. Most teens will say things like, "My friends don’t have to work or do chores.", "I won’t do anything bad.", "Why don’t you trust me?", and "Just because others do drugs doesn’t mean I will." It will be hard to stop this behavior if a parent gives in to these arguments.

You probably have an idea for a summer routine. Here are seven suggestions that I think are very useful.

1.  Children should be up by 9 am and do something by no later than 10 am on weekdays. If they sleep past 11 am, then they probably need more exercise during the day, an earlier bed time and less stimulation at night before they go to bed.

2.  Children need a schedule of daily activities, chores or a job opportunity. Children should earn money and not be given money before they earn it.

3.  Teenagers should be home no later than 10 pm every night unless they ask parents for permission in advance. Teenagers may stay out later on weekends but not weekdays. Late night activities on week days should be planned and approved by parents at least 24 hours in advance.

4.  Know where your children are, who they are with and where you can find them if you wanted to find them. It is important that you speak with and get to know the parents of children that your child associates with.

5.  Look into a summer program for young children through your local parks and recreation department. Keep your child from continuous television. Know what your teenagers are doing and check on them periodically to be sure they are completely open and honest with you.

6.  Make sure your children get plenty of exercise. Do not let your child watch TV, play video games or disappear into the internet for more than 2 hours a day.

7.  Have your child read, write or do math for at least 5 hours a week. Give them an incentive or pay them for a book report or correct answers to math questions.

Go to my web site at if you want to know more about house rules, reality, rewards, incentive and punishment. There are free articles on parenting and discipline.

Positive Psychology for the Summer

What we know about effective parenting has improved dramatically over the past 5 years. For one thing, we can not merely focus on our child’s irresponsible, dysfunctional or problem behavior. We must also focus on health and fulfillment of their potential. A successful and rewarding life for a child is not just staying out of trouble, but more importantly, it is the fulfillment of their potential and vision of a life worth living.

Rather than just punishing a child every time they make a mistake, it is also important to focus on discovering, expressing and reinforcing “what’s right with children.” Martine Seligman, past President of the American psychological Association, is considered the founder of positive psychology. Instead of just identifying what’s wrong with your child and correcting that, he has demonstrated that children benefit from parents who also help their children express and recognize their strengths and what they are doing to fulfill their potential. This requires parents to involve their children in activities that build, reinforce and support positive character development.

Positive character development is the result of expressing and recognizing on our strengths and virtues; thereby insulating and buffering our self from life’s negative influences. Challenges, jobs, outdoor activities and team sports build self-esteem, self-mastery and a positive attitude in life.

No Charge Telephone Based Consultation

For a limited time this Summer, Mentor Research Institute will have a professional available to go over the results of your StepOne screening, but only for those who live in Central Oregon. There is no charge for this brief consultation. Once you go over the results, Mentor can email you a no-cost report describing treatment and intervention options and a ranking of each option. The rankings are not perfect but they are very reliable and useful. They can give parents a good place to start. Knowing were to start is the key. Even if it is not the best option, in intervention report can help save time, money and effort. Keep in mind that StepOne for Parents is not an emergency service and a professional may not be able to go over the results with you immediately – especially if the demand is higher than expected. Your screening report will give you information about the consultation program and the availability.

Identifying “At-Risk” Children

If you think your child may be “at-risk”, go to a web site at www.StepOneForParents.Org. This is a non-profit and no charge service that may help. There is a screening questionnaire that you can complete online called StepOne for Parents.

StepOne for Parents is a questionnaire and computer program that operates on the Web. The program can be used by parents to screen their children for behavioral and emotional problems including the risk of self-harming, suicidal and violent behavior. To screen their child, parents go to a website and answer a series of questions about their adolescent. The web site automatically creates a 16 to 30 page report that parents can read and print.

StepOne for Parents was developed by a group of concerned parents, health care professionals and computer programmers. Unlike other screening approaches, StepOne is FOR parents and NOT just for professionals. The basic idea of StepOne for Parents is that parents should screen their children when they believe it is necessary. Parents shouldn’t have to wait weeks or months for a screening appointment.

This is where StepOne for Parent is designed to help. StepOne is not a complete solution but it can be a good first step.

The StepOne screening takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete. You can start, stop, and finish it later if you want. The entire process is secure and private. Parents can give the results to their doctor or a qualified counselor or mental health professional.

Crisis Intervention

Parents must take an active role in the life of children who are “at-risk” and those who are out of control. This takes time and effort. What kind of help do “at-risk” children need? Do they need parent education, family counseling, a psychological evaluation, a treatment program, a boarding school, a boot camp or psychotherapy? The list is nearly endless. The bottom line is this. After months of confused searching, with no clear place start, parents will become discouraged, resigned and frustrated.

If you are looking for help, or just plain confused, I have written a book that may help. “Crisis Intervention with Adolescents: A Guide for Parents and Professionals.” is the first and only comprehensive book that covers what parents need to know. The book is endorsed by qualified professionals and it is based on nearly 20 years of research. Parents reading this book will learn about parenting youth “at-risk”, crisis intervention, educational consulting, counseling and therapy approaches, medications, tough love, wilderness programs, boot camps, residential treatment, hospitals, law enforcement options and much more. The advantages, disadvantages and limitations of over 20 intervention approaches are discussed.

I have some simple advice for parents who are looking for help. Don’t send your child to a program unless you are confident in your decision, you understand your options and the program is recommended by a qualified consultant. A qualified professional will have credible and documented training in residential treatment, outpatient mental health, substance abuse, behavioral science, learning and developmental psychology. A highly qualified consultant would also be licensed as a counselor, social worker or psychologist.

A licensed health care provider may be able to use your health insurance to pay for their services. Working with a licensed professional can also help protect you from unethical and unprofessional behavior. This includes negligence, incompetence and misrepresentation.

If you have the time, you can learn a great deal on your own. To find out more about parenting youth “at-risk”, interventions, services, programs and educational consulting, you can also visit www.EducationOptions.Org. This is a non-profit consumer protection information resource.

This entire program is brought to you by Mentor Research Institute and the Central Oregon Family News as charitable community service. StepOne for Parents is supported by a technology grant from the Jeld-Wen Foundation. No financial support has been accepted from pharmaceutical companies. StepOne for Parents was created by a group of concerned parents, mental health care professionals and computer programmers. Mentor Research Institute maintains responsibility for  the StepOne for Parents screening program.

Michael Conner is a licensed psychologist and an educational consultant. He is a Director for Mentor Research Institute, a 501(c)3 charitable non-profit consumer protection information and education resource ( He maintains a private practice in Bend Oregon. For more information go to

Dated: December 13, 2008

copyright 2006, InCrisis (all rights reserved)