As a human being, I am saddened and angered by this case. As a psychologist, I am terrified. The saddest part is there were many instances where Ethan wanted help and even showed he needed it. Passed out drunk in a truck at age 15 with a naked 14 year-old girl. Police find him, no consequences. Documented history of passive and criminal parenting. No documentation of parenting classes. Who knows what happened in that home, it certainly wasn't healthy.
Before saying more about Ethan, let's address a couple of things about the consulting psychologist and “affluenza.” Affluenza is a fabricated psychological disorder (does not exist now nor ever in the diagnostic manual) that was allowed to be used as part of the defense. This is bizarre to me, I don't know how a judge would allow a pseudo-clinical term to impact a decision. I'm embarrassed that a psychologist, Gary D. Miller, used psychobabble in his explanation. However, a part of me gives Dr. Miller the benefit of the doubt and hope it was taken out of context.
In a recent interview, Dr. Miller said people are focusing too much on the “affluenza” diagnosis (I feel dirty typing that). The focus should be on the clinical terminology. I've worked a few court cases, and in almost every case, lawyers and judges only focus on the last page of the assessment which often includes the diagnosis and clinical recommendations. So clinical terms matter. Dr. Miller also suggested Ethan behaved more like a 12-year-old. Problem is 12-year-olds know right from wrong. My kids have a sense of right and wrong and they aren't even in elementary school. Again, I hope some of this information was taken out of context.
So why am I terrified?
There were a number of warning signs that were ignored. The parents had years, the police had chances, and now this judge had a chance. All of them failed. In a previous post (here), I laid out how it's natural for kids to have sociopathic tendencies. It is part of the developmental process. The other part of the process is helping kids cultivate care, empathy, and awareness. His sociopathic tendencies weren't extinguished, they were validated. Each time an adult passively allowed Ethan to commit illegal acts without consequence, Ethan received the message that not only was his behavior not wrong, it was right. He was essentially praised for bad decisions.
Now, he has ended 4 lives and destroyed families. The judge, Jean Hudson Boyd, had a chance. Judge Boyd could have set a limit, she could have said what you did was unacceptable in our civilized society. Instead, she validated murder. She validated a code that money and power are more important than humanity and life. She has confirmed Ethan's belief that he is more important, more valuable than other people. She has given her seal of approval of Ethan becoming a full-blown sociopath. The icing on his sociopathic cake is experts in their fields (i.e., psychologists, lawyers, police, and now a judge) have put all the blame on the parents. To really send home the message that Ethan isn't to blame, they ordered him to a beach town in California (see picture) so he can get away from his parents and their influence.
Yes, we are taking about a teenager. He certainly has an opportunity to fundamentally change who he is as a person. I truly hope that he does. I won't ever give up on a kid, it's not who I am.
However, facts are facts. The fact is he had friends in the bed of his truck, and increased his speed to 70 mph when they pleaded with him to slow down. The fact is his blood alcohol content (.24) was 3 times over the legal limit (.08) and he had THC and Valium in his system. The fact is he hit 4 people with his truck, and said to his passenger, “I'm Ethan Couch, I'll get you out of this.” To be that calm and calculated in that moment (and under the influence) is the definition of terrifying. It also suggests Ethan's case of “affluenza” was actually a fancy way of saying he's a budding sociopath, possibly psychopath. I hope I'm wrong.
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