A Wealth Manager Explains What Happens to Spoiled Kids When They Grow Up

Jun 27, 2017

It’s not necessarily an official psychological condition.

But wealth manager Richard Watts says that today, many American parents — especially ones with high incomes — are raising children who never experience any kind of adversity and end up paying a price as they become adults.

He calls the condition Entitlemania, which is also the name of his new book.

Courtesy of Richard Watts 

Many baby boomer parents have taken such good care of their children that the kids rarely have to deal with problems on their own. As a result, the children never develop "a sense of their own pride working their way out of difficulties,” Watts told Money in a phone interview.

Unlike “helicopter parents,” who were merely overly cautious, a new kind of parent has emerged that Watts calls the “drone parent.”

“Drone parents are strategic, focusing on all kinds of ways of bailing their kids out,” Watts said. “They’re running ahead on the field to make sure the pathway has been cleared.

“They don’t necessarily understand they’re doing it — we all love our kids — but in the process of bailing them out and becoming a drone, we’ve started taking them out of [necessary] struggles.”

As the head of wealth management firm that manages large family estates, Watts has had a front-row seat into how "Entitlemania" plays out among wealthy families, often to disastrous effect.

“It’s giving someone a job in the family company when they’re truly an imbecile,” he says. “Instead of having them figure out their own life, dad makes them VP at 21.”

The dad may think he's doing his child a favor — and he is, at least in the short run — but over time the situation often does not work out. The pride the father has taken in building the company is not passed along to the child, because the child wasn't involved in the company's growth. Instead of pride in one's hard work, the young adult simply feels deserving, or entitled, to a good job and respect in the professional world.

However, “as they get older,” Watts says, the adult children will “start to recognize the people around them are not admiring them.” Instead, colleagues and subordinates may be resentful of the fact that somebody was awarded a high-paid position just because he or she was the boss's kid.

“Everyone in the business is going to know they’re the Wellingtons or they’re the Owens,” Watts says. “The guy who’s sweeping the floor may be friendly but he’s still scared” of getting on the bad side of the boss's child.

In addition to feeling entitled to career advancement and power, Watts says that too many young people are consumed by materialism and stuff. He points out that at least one study has found there are marginal diminishing returns to happinessafter an individual has reached just $75,000 in income. Past that level, when families have a lot of disposable income, "wants" transform into "needs."

“A kid might say, ‘I really want to have the Tesla with the extra kick. Within six months, I need to have that.'”

While Entitlemania is mostly concentrated among people with the most means to remove life’s obstacles, Watts says the mentality can be found at all rungs of society: “People have written me from the projects from New York — ‘I’m a mom on welfare, but I have every cable channel, and I gave my kid $135 tennis shoes so he can walk out with the best; I want him to have that.’”

So how do you cure Entitlemania? Besides letting kids experience more struggles and overcome them on their own, Watts says there’s a major opportunity coming to address it. The inheritances baby boomer parents will leave to their children will constitute what Watts says is one of the “greatest wealth transfers in the history of the world.”

“That money coming in is extreme,” Watts says, and parents should consider options other than simply passing along all of it to their children. “Maybe you should not give it all to the kid, they shouldn’t inherit $1 million. Maybe put some toward a foundation, or maybe create a foundation that’s required to give it away. Maybe we should begin to ask how much is too much.”

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