As Britt Reid walked to court in handcuffs last week, accused of pointing a gun at a motorist, and his older brother, Garrett, waited to see whether he would be charged for causing a car wreck while allegedly high on heroin, many people in the Philadelphia area wondered the same thing:
How could two young men whose parents were able to offer them every advantage - a big house, money, celebrity - land in such serious trouble?
Counselors who work with affluent children and families offer a one-word answer: Easy.
"Having resources doesn't make parenting easier or harder. It just makes it different," said Crista Martinez, director of Families First Parenting Programs near Boston.
The offenses attributed to Britt, 21, and Garrett, 23, sons of Eagles head coach Andy Reid, challenge the assumption that rich parents have it made, that the more you earn, the simpler it is to raise healthy, productive kids. The team announced Monday that the coach would take an immediate one-month leave to deal with family matters arising from the separate Jan. 30 incidents.
Children growing up in moneyed families and communities possess some enormous, basic advantages. They don't worry about food, clothes or housing, about seeing a doctor when they're sick or walking safely through their neighborhood.
But as researchers learn more, they have found that wealth and opportunity are poor predictors of behavior or even self-regard. Studies show that children of affluence can actually be more prone to damaging and dangerous behavior once thought to be the province of their less-privileged peers.
"Trust funds can be as much of a curse as a blessing," said Exton psychologist Jeffrey Bernstein, author of 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child. Like others interviewed for this article, Bernstein said he had no firsthand knowledge of the Reid family and could not speak specifically about its situation.
Examples of rich kids gone wrong are strewn across tony Philadelphia suburbs like empty beer bottles. It's not just drugs and booze. It's violence and depression. It's eating disorders that threaten young lives.
"When you have the means, there are, I think, high expectations of children," said Carol Staubach of Middletown Township, who is on the board of the Healthy Communities Initiative, serving four towns in the Rose Tree Media School District.
Staubach's daughter, Elizabeth Spradlin, was a typical overachiever, involved in everything from dancing to basketball. Spradlin's drive mirrored that of her parents, whose corporate jobs demanded hard work and long hours.
"In my eyes, they were perfect," Spradlin, 25, said. "And I had to live up to that."
But not long after Spradlin won a scholarship to Merion Mercy Academy, a private high school on the Main Line, she stopped eating. In three months she dropped 50 pounds, and over the next four years she grew so thin she nearly died.
She felt constant fear that she would not top her previous achievements. One thing she could control was her weight, and she pursued a leaner body with an overachiever's resolve. At her lightest, the 5-foot-4 teen weighed 50 pounds.
The turning point was when Spradlin realized she had a simple choice: End her anorexia or die. Today she studies nursing at Drexel University and hopes to attend medical school.
Experts say stories like Spradlin's are common - and many have no happy ending.
In 2005, Columbia University scholars who spent years tracking hundreds of middle and high school students in well-off Northeast suburbs wrote in measured understatement, "All is not necessarily well among children of the affluent."
The children in households with median incomes ranging from $80,000 to $102,000 smoked, drank, and used marijuana and hard drugs much more than their urban peers, whose households averaged $35,000 in income. The suburban teens also reported greater anxiety and depression.
Often, researchers Suniya Luthar and Shawn Latendresse found, substance abuse represented an unhappy child's effort to self-medicate. Many teens thought that they had to be perfect and that their parents valued achievements over character.
They felt isolated from their mothers and fathers, figuratively and literally - and they weren't imagining it. Flexible hours, the researchers noted, aren't an option for CEOs and college presidents.
Or, perhaps, for football coaches.
Britt Reid was charged Feb. 6 with making terroristic threats, drug possession, and carrying a firearm without a license, a felony. He faces up to seven years in prison.
The allegations stem from a confrontation in West Conshohocken in which he argued with another motorist and pointed a handgun at him, prosecutors said.
Later that day, police recovered a shotgun from the vehicle Britt Reid drove, and a handgun from his room at the Villanova home he shares with his parents. He was charged with drug possession after police said they had found cocaine, oxycodone and marijuana in his car.
Hours later, Garrett Reid ran a red light in Plymouth Township and injured another driver, police said. He acknowledged using heroin that day. A search of his pockets and car turned up white powder and syringes.
"It's exactly kids from privileged backgrounds that have the most difficulty," said psychologist Madeline Levine, author of The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids.
Many are troubled but functioning, masters at putting up a good front. When the facades shatter, boys generally act out, getting into fights or driving drunk, Levine said, while girls "act in," punishing themselves with food or razor blades.
"Boys make the front page of the newspaper, and girls are up in their room, cutting," she said.
Experts say affluent parents face the challenge of offering their children every opportunity while not undermining the children's self-reliance or smothering them with pressure to succeed. The best-intentioned parents can find it hard to set curfews and limit luxury goods in communities where kids enjoy credit cards and Shore houses. These kids see everyone around them living well, and ask, "Why shouldn't I have what I want?" The parents can't plead poverty.
"There's too much coming to them in too little time," said Bernstein, the psychologist.
Rachel Cramer, a 15-year-old sophomore at Lower Merion High School, in the same school district where the Reids attended Harriton High, sees that materialism firsthand.
"There's a big pressure, I would say, for nice clothes, for cars," Cramer said.
All her friends who are seniors and juniors have cars, usually their own. But, she said, that hardly means their lives are easy. They face intense demands.
"Kids are freaking out when report cards come out, because their parents tell them, 'You need to get A's, you need AP courses, you need honors.' . . . No one I know has ever been, 'Oh, I'm going to go to community college.' "
Her mother, Wendy Cramer, said she and her husband, Matthew, were determined to instill values of hard work, personal responsibility and community service in their children - tough, because not every parent in their Wynnewood community shares those ideals.
"The sense of entitlement these kids have is just unbelievable," said Cramer, who runs a parental discussion group at the Jewish Community Centers' Kaiserman branch in Wynnewood. " 'Of course I'm going to get a car.' A lot of kids are in families that are OK with that."
Stephanie Shell of Ardmore has two children, ages 6 and 8, and already she's thinking about how to raise them amid the influence of affluence.
"I'm not sure there's any magic answer," said Shell, a consultant who helps lead the Lower Merion-Narberth Community Coalition.
She knows that as her children grow, the terrain will become more treacherous.
"There's a sense that kids in this community are wealthy, smart, athletic, talented," she said. "They really very often feel a sense of power, and empowerment, that makes them feel immune to the risks out there."
Praise your child for specific accomplishments. Excessive, generalized praise can sound empty.
Avoid overscheduling. It's hard to limit activities when there are few financial restraints, but too many can hurt a child's ability to become independent and manage his or her own time.
Honor your child's interests. Let your child's talents, not your aspirations, dictate what he or she pursues.
Communicate openly about your wealth. Be honest about parenting dilemmas you face. A conversation might begin: "You know we can afford to buy a TV for your room - that's not the issue here. We really don't like the idea of you watching TV by yourself in your own room. Let's talk about why."
Make the connection between work and reward. Families with household help may not need their children to clean their rooms, but contributions build a sense of responsibility.
Step back from the pressure to acquire. Reevaluate the values and priorities you convey to your child.
Spend unstructured time together. Affluent parents can struggle to just "be" with their children. Make time when no one is pressured to perform.
Acknowledge children's feelings. Children are more likely to cooperate when they feel understood. For example: "I know you're disappointed that I can't go on your class trip this time. I wish I could go, too. Let's find out when the next trip is, and I'll try to free up my schedule."
SOURCE: Families First Parenting Programs EndText