Texas teen Ethan Couch: For 'affluenza' the solution is parenting

Texas teen Ethan Couch: Ethan Couch receives ten years probation after killing four in a drunk driving accident. Could more attentive parents have helped curb what the defense called 'affluenza?' 

CBS Dallas- Fort Worth/NDN
Texas teen Ethan Couch: A Texas juvenile court sentenceced 16-year-old Ethan Couch to 10 years probation after the Texas teen confessed to intoxicated manslaughter during a crash in June.

The verdict giving 10 years of probation to Ethan Couch, the wealthy Texas teen who confessed to intoxication manslaughter in the deaths of four pedestrians, spotlights the fact that it takes a parent, not a village, to properly raise a child.

The expression “It takes a village to raise a child” means including extended family and resources, not taking the parent out of the equation. 

The outrage over this verdict comes from the defense used in the case, which blames “affluenza” for which the only solution is real, old school, parenting. The term was used by a defense witness, a psychologist and refers to the boy’s privilege, affluence and lack of boundaries and parenting as the reason for his crimes.

According to the Associated Press, Ethan and his friends stole alcohol from a Walmart. Then Ethan chose to drive his Ford F-350 pickup with seven passengers and a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit for an adult, speeding at 70 mph in a 40 mph zone. He ran into pedestrians, resulting in the deaths of four people.

While the AP reports prosecutors called for the maximum 20 years in state custody, Couch’s attorneys appealed to state District Judge Jean Boyd “that the teenager needed rehabilitation not prison.”

Now it seems that the parenting of this Texas teen will fall to the state over the next 10 years.

However, I would argue that the boy has had plenty of parenting, just from the wrong people.

Like too many kids, rich and poor alike, this Texas teen was raised by society: TV, internet, friends, schools, and films seemed to have more of an influence on his actions.

While there are some positive influences there, there are many more attractive vices washing over kids.

My son Quin, 10, didn’t understand Ethan’s story at all. 

“Who hasn’t heard not to drink and smoke? Never drink and drive. At school they literally tell you not to. Plus, parents tell you not to and everything because there has to be some kind of boundary I cannot cross.”

The entire key to the Ethan Couch case and the others like him is that one word Quin said, “Plus.”

School, commercials, and TV shows may tell kids what not to do, but until there is a parent there adding to the weight of the issue, the words just float away.

We can speculate that the bad choices made by kids like Ethan are a cry for help from a kid who craves parental attention and will settle for anything in place of being ignored or placated with material things.

However, that’s not the kind of speculation people often make about kids suffering from the alternative form of “Affluenza” which we might name “poor pox” – affecting poor kids of working parents who must entrust the raising of their kids to daycare and free programs after school with little “plus” time to offer. 

There seems to be a double standard – when it comes to “poor pox,” kids often go to jail for 20 years.

Four days a week I volunteer to teach chess to kids both wealthy and impoverished in Norfolk, Virginia. I also make house calls to juvenile detention centers and alternative schools where kids are sent when they are unmanageable in a public school setting.

Kids with “poor pox” and “affluenza” alike often have attitude issues, bad grades and sometimes a rap sheet.

Because chess is like life, it is a great tool for teaching life strategies, but kids only retain what I teach them if their parents are on board to reinforce the lessons.

In chess, I teach kids that their actions can have swift and terrible consequences – bad move, big loss, game over – that is the way chess rolls.

If a child is allowed to make his or her own rules in chess and can take back moves with no consequence for errors, there is no investment in getting better at playing.

However, a game and a moral lesson from a stranger can’t hold down the fort when there’s no weight on the scales at home.

The case of Ethan Couch reminds us that no child, of any age, race, or socioeconomic status, will learn everything they need to know being raised by “The Village” if the parents have moved away from their responsibilities.

It’s never too late for parents to get back in the game with their kids.

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