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“Teaching Johnny Values where Money is King”

Brown, Patricia Leigh | The New York Times, March 10, 2000


Already by 2000 around Palo Alto, CA., and in the Silicon Valley (“The Valley”), people were worrying about “Sudden Wealth Syndrome.” Around here there are 60 new millionaires per day, thirteen-year-olds come home from school to check their stocks, C.E.O.’s are superheroes, family dinner talk is of I.P.O’s, and “a recent collision between two students in a high school parking lot involved a Toyota S.U.V. Forerunner and a Mercedes 500 SL.” Merrill Lynch has a “financial parenting” program to help the wealthy deal with potentially embarrassing questions: “Daddy, why are we flying in a private plane?” Answer: “We’ve had a little luck, but we’ve worked hard for it.” At weddings, people “eat, talk, and make deals.” Wise parents try to keep family net worth from their 5 and 8-year-olds, but soon enough all they have to do is go online, or read the papers and they’ll know. Alexis T lives amidst “swimming pools, guest houses, and gardener-maintained property where full-grown trees are helicoptered in, and it brings this view: ‘In school you’re learning as fast as you can so you can apply it as fast as you can so that you can become rich and successful by age 24 because that’s what happens here.” “We can’t afford it” isn’t an available cultural limit any longer because everybody can. Parents are working faster and harder in an intensely competitive environment, and the pressures and values pass along to the kids. Preteens need stress classes, and feel that they’re the only one not keeping up. One counselor: “Children look at the middle class as poverty and going to Hawaii only once a year is considered the bottom rung.” Parents give their kids everything because that’s how kids compete and win–by having more. If they take friends on family ski vacations to Gstaad, Switzerland, pretty soon the social invitations for those kids start to arrive, and even coaches of the school sports teams speak to them deferentially. And the kids wonder: ‘Do they like me, or do they just want to go to Gstaad?” Lisa M. feels bad for her parents, both doctors. The docs feel left out of the boom, because “’compared to the C.E.O. of Cisco Systems, my Dad feels totally insignificant.’” The kids’ heroes are twenty-year-old start-up entrepreneurs who hit it big. “$20,000,000 by 20” is the goal. Classes that invest simulated stocks now bore students. They have real ones. And the childhood boast “my Daddy can beat up your Daddy” has shifted: now it’s “My Daddy can buy your Daddy.”