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Depression

16 Ways Overindulging Your Child Can Harm Them in the Future

Entitlement, ungratefulness, and depression are only a few of the risks.

Key points

  • Childhood overindulgence can lead to harmful outcomes in adulthood.
  • Occasional indulgences are ok, but it turns into a problem when the indulgence becomes a pattern or ritual.
  • These 16 items are specific risks for children with overindulgent parents.

"I get such a sense of pleasure and joy when I buy my children everything I didn't have when I was growing up. It makes me feel loved. After all, what's so bad about that?"

Too much.

"Some people call me a helicopter parent because I try to control almost everything my child is involved in; school, church, friends, etc. I am trying to protect my child from unhappiness. I don't want him to struggle and be hurt or disappointed. I know I do things for him that he should be doing for himself but I really don't think that's so bad. After all, I wish my parents had done the same for me when I was growing up."

Overnurturing.

"My kid is a holy terror. She throws a fit every time we go to the grocery store I don't buy her something. I just give up and give in to keep the peace. I know, my bad."

Soft Structure.

What Is Childhood Overindulgence?

According to Clarke et al., (2014, p. 5) childhood overindulgence is:

  • Giving children too much of what looks good, too soon, and for too long.
  • Giving them things or experiences that are not appropriate for their age, interests, or talents.
  • Giving things to children that meet the adult's need, not the child's need.
  • Giving a disproportionate amount of family resources to one or more children in a way that appears to be meeting the children's needs but does not.
  • Doing or having so much of something that it does active harm to, or at least stagnates, a person and deprives that person of achieving his or her full potential.

  • Overindulgence is a form of child neglect. It hinders children from mastering their needed developmental tasks and from learning necessary life lessons.

Overindulgence occurs in three different ways: (1) Too Much, (2) Overnurturing, and (3) Structure that is too soft.

Occasional indulgences add color, pleasure, and joy to life. When those same indulgences become a pattern, however, the result is very different. This pattern is called overindulgence. (Clarke et al., 2014, p. 5)

I don't believe any parent wants to raise an overindulged child with an overblown sense of entitlement. Doing so can lead to negative outcomes later in life, such as:

Josh Willink/Pexels
Source: Josh Willink/Pexels

1. They are stuck in the center of their own universe: A child should understand early on that the world will not solely focus on them all of the time.1

2. Development of disrespectful attitudes: Having disrespect for one’s own things easily leads to disrespect for other people’s things.1

3. A sense of learned helplessness: Doing for children what they should be learning to do themselves takes away the opportunity for them to learn how to be competent.1

4. The confusion of wants and needs: Young children can’t tell the difference between wants and needs and have to be carefully taught.1

5. They develop an overblown sense of entitlement: Adults who were overindulged as children often feel that they are entitled to more of everything and that they deserve more than others. 1, 7, 9

6. An increased sense of irresponsibility: Constantly protecting children from experiencing the consequences of their actions and not holding them accountable for completing tasks leads to irresponsibility. When overindulged children grow up they are not interested in making the world a better place and are not willing to help people improve their lives unless they get something in return. 1, 7

7. Lacking in gratitude: Soft structure in the home can lead individuals to lack gratitude for things and for others. They feel that they don't have much to be grateful for and are not able to appreciate the people, events, and situations that have been part of their life. 1, 7

August de Richelieu/Pexels
Source: August de Richelieu/Pexels

8. Poor self-control skills: Parents need to insist that the child learn self-management skills, including delayed gratification. Helicopter parenting hinders the development of self-control skills which are associated with feelings of school burnout. 1, 7, 10, 12, 14

9. Lack of meaningful relationships: Issues that result from overindulgences, such as poor conflict-resolution skills and expectation of immediate gratification spill over into all other relationship forms, from friends to family to the workplace.1, 5

10. Development of materialistic values which contribute to unhappiness: Children who were overindulged as children are more likely to develop materialistic values in adulthood (selfishness and greed) and grow up to be unhappy. 1, 6

12. Issues connected to personal life goals: Studies show that the more an individual was overindulged as a child, the more likely it is that their personal life goals are externally motivated—fame, fortune, vanity—as opposed to internal aspirations such as developing character and cultivating meaningful relationships. 1, 6, 7

13. Lack of spiritual involvement: Overindulged children are more likely to become adults who are not interested in spiritual growth, have difficulties finding meaning in times of hardship, and are less apt to develop a personal relationship with a power greater than themselves. 8, 9

14. Depression and dysfunctional thinking: Childhood overindulgence in emerging adults is linked to depression, dysfunctional thinking, and college burnout. 1, 2, 11, 13

15. Money management problems: Children who were overindulged grow up having difficulty managing money and are often burdened with excessive debt. Arguments over money become a central feature in their adult relationships. 1, 5

16. Parental sense of incompetence: Children who were overindulged grow up to become parents who don't know how to parent. They tend to be permissive or authoritarian and lack a sense of competence in their parenting. 1, 3, 4, 10, 11, 12, 13

Resources You May Find Helpful

Practice Aloha. Do all things with love, grace, and gratitude.

© 2022 David J. Bredehoft

References

1. Bredehoft, D. J., Mennicke, S. A., Potter, A. M., & Clarke, J. I. (1998). Perceptions attributed by adults to parental overindulgence during childhood. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education, 16(2), 3-17.

2. Bredehoft, D. J., & Leach, M. K. (2006). Influence of childhood overindulgence on young adult dispositions. Executive Summary: Study 2.

3. Bredehoft, D. J. (2006). Becoming a parent after growing up overindulged: Executive Summary: Study 3.

4. Walcheski, M. J., Bredehoft, D. J., & Leach, M. K. (2007). Overindulgence, parenting styles, and parent sense of competence - Executive Summary: Study 4.

5. Bredehoft, D. J., & Clarke, J. I. (2006). Study 5: Answering questions about growing up, overindulged, and adult relationships. Poster presented at the 2006 National Council on Family Relations Annual Conference, November 11, 2006, Hyatt Hotel, Minneapolis, MN.

6. Bredehoft, D. J., & Ralston, E. S. (2008). Factors connecting childhood overindulgence and adult life aspirations: Executive Summary - Study 6.

7. Bredehoft, D. J., Slinger, M. R. (2008-2009). The relationship between childhood overindulgence, materialistic values, gratitude, instant gratification, self-control, and subjective happiness in adulthood: Executive summary - Study 8.

8. Bredehoft, D. J. (2013). Empirical connections between parental overindulgence patterns, parenting styles, and parent sense of competence - Executive Summary: Study 9.

9. Sims, G., Bredehoft, D. J. (2012). Pathways from childhood overindulgence to helicopter parenting, psychological entitlement and spiritual involvement. Poster presented at the 2012 Minnesota Undergraduate Psychology Conference, April 28, 2012, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN.

10. Love, H., May, R. W., Cui, M. et al. (2020). Helicopter parenting, self-control, and school burnout among emerging adults. Journal of Child Family Studies. 29, 327–337. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-019-01560-z

11. Love, H., Cui, M., Hong, P., & McWey, L. M. (2020). Parent and child perceptions of indulgent parenting and female emerging adults’ depressive symptoms, Journal of Family Studies, DOI: 10.1080/13229400.2020.1794932

12. Gagnon, R.J., Garst, B.A., Kouros, C.D. et al. (2020). When overparenting is normal parenting: Examining child disability and overparenting in early adolescence. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 29, 413–425. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-019-01623-1

13. Perry, N. B., Dollar, J. M., Calkins, S. D., Keane, S. P., & Shanahan, L. (2018). Childhood self-regulation as a mechanism through which early overcontrolling parenting is associated with adjustment in preadolescence. Developmental Psychology, 54(8), 1542–1554. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000536

14. Sirohi P. (2021). Hovering is not helping: The effects of overindulgence and helicopter parenting. International Journal of Indian Psychology, 9(4),1539-1543. DIP:18.01.147.20210904, DOI:10.25215/0904.147

Clarke, J. I., Dawson, C., Bredehoft, D. J. (2014). How much is too much? Raising likeable, responsible, respectful children - from toddlers to teens - in an age of overindulgence. NY: Da Capo Lifelong press.

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