THE BLOG

Finding a Cure For the Common Affluenza

12/18/2013 12:25 EST | Updated 02/17/2014 05:59 EST

A teenage boy suffering from a tragic affliction has been rendered utterly helpless in making good choices and devoid of culpability.

His bad decisions have left four people dead, but rest assured that Ethan Couch is the victim in this case, at least according to his lawyers.

Couch is the clinically spoiled 16-year-old who pretty much got away with vehicular homicide recently when a judge in Texas bought the sob story presented by the defense.

After drinking alcohol and taking valium, Ethan was involved in a drunk driving accident that claimed the lives of four people and severely injured two others. His defense basically boiled down to the fact that poor Ethan was simply too rich and overindulged to be held accountable for his actions.

After years of being coddled by his parents and given free passes whenever he misbehaved, Ethan's attorneys argued that society could not possibly expect him to act responsibly. Amazingly, the judge agreed.

For his crime, Ethan Couch was sentenced to ten years of probation and his parents must pay for their son to enter a ritzy rehab centre that reportedly charges $450,000 per year.

This "affluenza" means that Ethan Couch will avoid jail time.

Psychologist for the defense, Dr. Gary Miller, argued in court that Couch was the "troubled product of a broken, wealthy home." Miller argued that Couch got whatever he wanted growing up and was raised by parents who "felt that wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between behaviour and consequences."

Even if this were true, Couch is no longer an unruly toddler throwing a temper tantrum. At sixteen, he is on the cusp of adulthood.

Did Ethan Couch never attend school? Did none of his teachers ever expose him to the notion of consequences? Heck, even television or video games would introduce Couch to this very basic concept. Surely a well-meaning babysitter, nanny, or grandparent would have tried to hammer this point home as well, even if it fell on deaf ears.

I don't fault the defense for attempting to make this rather startling claim in order to excuse Couch's inexcusable behaviour, but the fact that a judge would accept such an absurd claim and then essentially let the teen off with a gentle slap on the wrist is a hard pill to swallow.

When Couch stole the beer that he then used to drink himself into a stupor, I have no doubt that he knew that stealing was wrong. Or at least illegal. And when he engaged in underage drinking, I have no doubt that he knew that he was partaking in yet another illegal activity. Same thing when he got behind the wheel. Even if he wasn't taught about drunk driving from his fabulously rich parents, I am sure he's seen an episode of Cops or Law & Order. Most schools will bring in police officers, victims or even offenders who will speak to the perils of driving while intoxicated.

Dundas-based social worker and Spectator parenting columnist, Gary Direnfeld, is clearly shaking his head at this verdict.

"Affluenza is code for having indulged your children and shouldn't serve as an excuse for unlawful activity," maintains Direnfeld. "Until people are truly held accountable for untoward behaviour, there is a significant likelihood that the behaviour will continue."

"That this teen has avoided a consequence commensurate with his offence at best teaches him nothing and at worst further indulges him creating a probability of similar ongoing behaviour."

And there's the rub. After years of getting a free pass from his parents, the judge in this case has given Ethan Couch yet another one and has ostensibly created a valid defense the next time Couch breaks the law.

After all, if even a judge is willing to overlook Couch's bad behaviour (even when it results in the death of four people) then Couch could reasonably construe that he is able to commit future crimes -- like rape or murder -- without any real penalty.

Even if we are to believe that Couch's upbringing was so terrible that he honestly has no understanding of actions and consequences, shouldn't the parents face some kind of penalty instead? After all, it is through their neglect and failure to properly parent that society now has to deal with the likes of young Ethan Couch.

Psychologist Dr. Gary Miller goes on to excuse Couch's wrongdoing by explaining that "the teen never learned to say that you're sorry if you hurt someone. If you hurt someone, you sent him money."

In the real world, if you hurt someone (especially when the people you hurt wind up dead) you generally spend considerable time behind bars. Ethan Couch should be afforded the opportunity to spend several years in prison where he can think about whether or not he is sorry for his actions.

Relaxing at some posh rehab centre will do nothing to teach Couch about the importance of repentance and making good choices.

How else can we cure poor Ethan Couch of this debilitating affliction?

And perhaps someone should investigate whether the judge in this case suffers from affluenza as well.

After all, only someone incapable of making good choices could render such a preposterous verdict.

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Lydia Lovric is a former writer and broadcaster, turned stay-at-home mom.

This article originally appeared in The Hamilton Spectator