General Parenting Issues — 11 July 2010
Overindulgent parents harm their children

All parents wish to provide the best life for their children. Some parents with good intentions tend to overdo it and overindulge their children to the grave detriment of their youngsters.

Overindulgence is defined by researcher David Bredehoft as providing, “Too Much Stuff: Materialism and activities, Over-nurturing: Too much assistance reducing self-reliance, and Soft Structure: Lax rules, no chores, aimless.”

Overindulgent parents often view themselves as loving their children unconditionally by permitting all requests and offering their youngsters free reign without restrictions. They also believe that being good parents entails supplying children with all of their wishes. These “permissive” parents give their children too much freedom too early and trust that they will handle it well. These adults often fail to distinguish between their children’s needs such as love, attention, guidance and their wants such as luxury, ease and non-exertion.

Don Kindlon, in “Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age,” describes the seven outcomes of overindulged children. They experience, “Self-centeredness, Anger, Extreme ambition, Lack of motivation, Eating disorders, Impulsiveness, Spoiled behavior.”

Children and teenagers who are given freedom to make all their own decisions are often frightened and insecure. They are aware that they do not know how to make many life choices alone and are at a great loss without parental guidance and decision-making tools. Youngsters feel anger about having to set their own boundaries in interpersonal relationships without the backing of their parents. They have great goals but because they are so accustomed to being catered to, they do not have the skills or drive for achieving their ambitions. Impulsivity, eating disorders and spoiled behavior all stem from needing control and having no ability to appropriately exercise it.

Professor David Bredehoft and Melissa Leach found that children who are overindulged grow up to be at risk for: “not knowing the difference between needs and wants; needing constant stimulation and entertainment from others; being deficient in life skills which interferes with performing daily tasks; not taking responsibility for their own actions; not learning important social skills which lead to interpersonal boundary issues and decision making problems; lower self-efficacy (a sense of feeling incapable of dealing effectively with life problems); overeating, overspending, and dysfunctional thinking (increased depressive thoughts). Paradoxically, overindulged children can develop an overblown sense of self-importance which can lead to problems at school, on the job, and/or in relationships.”

When children who have been overindulged become parents they continue to struggle. According to David Bredehoft’s findings, “the more children are overindulged the more likely they are to become parents who: feel ineffective; believe they are not in control of their own life or their child’s behavior; think they are not responsible for their child’s actions, and that raising good children is due to fate, luck, or chance.”

The ill effects of well-intentioned overindulgence by parents impact children from early age through their adulthood and parenting, education, career and even their love relationships.

To avoid being an overindulgent parent,

• Understand that loving your child means providing for his/her needs and monitoring your youngster’s wants.
• Trust that unconditional love means non-judgmental acceptance of your child coupled with responsibility for guiding his/her actions.
• Provide backing for your teenagers. Secure children feel empowered to tell their peers that it is their parents who disallow the behavior they prefer not to undertake.
• Realize that always saying “yes” renders your child fearful, angry, confused, entitled and directionless. Denying some of your child’s whims is essential to his/her ultimate sense of security and safety.
• Expect your child to follow rules and be a contributing member of the family.
• Help your child learn to set goals, problem solve, plan and execute his/her dreams.
• Don’t just give. Help your youngster earn his heart’s desires. He/she will develop self-esteem, competence and confidence, valuable tools for success and happiness throughout life.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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