Teenage Affluenza: A viral video to stir our minds

I’m a bit anxious about impending teenhood. No, not my own, thank you, but my kid’s.

As a single parent raising a 12-year-old who will soon turn 13, I keep reading and hearing all kinds of advice these days on how best to cope with a teenager in the house — that phase in growing up that everyone predicts will involve some turbulence.

On top of all else that comes with hormones-on-legs, there’s now the worry of Teenage Affluenza. It’s a condition that affects millions of teenagers around the world. Most of them live in the developed countries, but in this topsy-turvey, globalised world, there’s no stopping the rapid spread of such conditions all over the majority world.

Look closely, and you can see the symptoms of TA
Look carefully, and you can see the symptoms of TA - image courtesy WorldVision Australia

I belatedly came across this campaign video called Teenage Affluenza, made by the charity WorldVision Australia in mid 2007. It was first made for a promotion kit for the 40 Hour Famine, to be used in Australian schools. World Vision media staff worked with Rohan Zerna Films, Melbourne, who had worked on previous spots for World Vision. The team decided to take the route of irony, providing a spoof feel. The budget wasn’t high. A family friend of the producer starred as the Melbourne teenager. The voice-over was donated by a regular with World Vision promotions. Overseas footage, already held by World Vision Australia, was spliced into the story.

Read news story in The Age newspaper, Australia, on 2 July 2007

Erin is a fifteen year old girl living deep in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. She is at risk from teenage affluenza, like five million children and teenagers in her country. She still sleeps in the wooden colonial bed her parents bought her when she was ten. Although meals, travel and education are readily available to girls like Erin, many are forced to live on less than $40 pocket money each week. Erin’s iPod only holds 1 GB.

And so the satirical commentary continues. Juxtaposed with Erin’s ‘tragic life’ is the reality faced by children and teenagers in Vietnam, Sudan and other countries affected by famine and the long term impact of civil war. The video ends with the message “Do something else. Do something real. Do something.”

Teenage Affluenza is Spreading Fast: From WorldVision Australia

The video has attracted thousands of responses on YouTube’s online-comments section, including some honest self-analysis from teenagers, while others started a discussion about who is to blame – corrupt governments or first-world greed.

Meanwhile, WorldVision US has released another version of the video, slightly shorter and featuring American teeangers. If anything, the condition is more prevalent there.

Teenage Affluenza: from WorldVision United States

The message to parents is clear: we’re the ones who can prevent our teenagers from contracting Affluenza. All it takes is thoughtful and sustained action. When teens say gimme-gimme-gimme, we have to known when it’s really needed and when it’s wanted. Easier said than done. I know, because teenages seem to arrive in pre-teens these days.

We the parents would certainly welcome reinforcements from any sensible source. WorldVision Australia runs an interesting website called Stir, which tries to engage youth on issues of development and global justice. As a direct intervention charity, WorldVision doesn’t leave it to governments, but urges people to get involved — and do something.