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Discussion Starter: ‘Affluenza’ Defense Keeps Teen Out of Jail

Stephanie Martin —  December 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

In The News

Houston—Sixteen-year-old Ethan Couch, who killed four people and severely injured two others in a drunk driving crash, was sentenced to 10 years of probation but no jail time. The prosecution had asked for the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, but the defense argued that Ethan was a victim of wealth whose parents never set limits for him.

Last June, Ethan and his friends stole beer from a Walmart, and he later plowed his pickup into four pedestrians, who all died. Two people riding in the truck bed wereshoplift seriously injured; one can no longer move or talk.

After the sentencing, Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter were killed, said, “We have accomplished nothing here. There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day.”

Ethan’s lawyers said his wealthy parents were partly responsible for the crash, because they’d never punished him and gave him everything he wanted.

Psychologist G. Dick Miller, who testified on Ethan’s behalf, said the teenager suffered from affluenza, a condition in which wealth brings privilege and there’s no rational link between behavior and consequences.

Defense attorney Scott Brown said, “There is nothing the judge could have done to lessen the suffering for any of [the victims’] families.” As part of his sentence, Ethan is heading to a private counseling center, and his parents have to pay the $450,000 fee.

Affluenza isn’t an official psychiatric diagnosis, and there’s little research about whether poor and rich families set limits differently. But psychologist Mary Gresham said wealthy teenagers seem to have more adjustment problems, and their parents often object to school or legal authorities handing out any punishment.

In addition, Gresham said, in wealthy families “kids without limits have a lot more resources to use for their impulsive behavior,” such as fast cars and alcohol.

Legal analyst Sunny Hostin said, “To give [Ethan] a pass this time given the nature of his conduct—four deaths—is just incomprehensible.” She added, “There have to be consequences to actions…even for juveniles.”

Sources: cnn.com, huffingtonpost.com

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Discussion Questions:

What’s your reaction to the sentence Ethan received, and why? When deciding a sentence, how much consideration do you think should’ve been given to his age? to his family status?

Do juveniles deserve at least one “pass” because they’re still developing and learning to control their impulses? If Ethan had been sentenced to jail, how much would that have eased the victims’ suffering, in your opinion?

How credible is the affluenza defense, and why? Do you believe rich parents tend to have more laid-back parenting styles merely because of their financial status? Why or why not?

Why are limits and consequences so important for children—yet so difficult for children to accept? How should limits and consequences change as kids grow up?

Do you think teenagers need more consequences or fewer consequences than grade-schoolers? Explain. What kind of treatment would you recommend for someone who needs to learn limits—especially at age 16?

If Ethan doesn’t have to go to jail, do you think he’ll learn any lessons from his crime? Does the lack of consequences in this case just reinforce the idea that he’ll always get off easily? Explain.

What examples of affluenza or a lack of limits have you witnessed or heard about among your peers? What differences have you noticed, if any, between kids from different financial backgrounds and how they’re parented?

What types of limits do your parents set for you, and what’s your attitude toward those limits? How might your life be different if you had more or fewer limits?

What methods have you tried to use to avoid punishment or consequences, and how effective were they? What lessons have you learned from “facing the music” for your misbehavior?

Scripture links: 2 Samuel 12:1-14; Proverbs 11:19-21; Proverbs 29:15; 2 Corinthians 7:8-10; Ephesians 6:1-4; and Hebrews 12:7-11.

Stephanie Martin

Stephanie Martin

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Stephanie Martin, a writer and editor in Colorado, has 20 years of Christian publishing experience.

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