What are the problems about understanding overindulgence? There are three.
What is it exactly?
Does it do any harm?
Am I doing it?
What it is was defined by the participants in the first research study, (Study 1)1 124 adults willingly described the impact that being overindulged in a big way has had on their lives. They said:
Overindulging children is giving them too much of what looks good, too soon, too long. It is giving them things or experiences that are not appropriate for their age or their interests and talents. It is the process of giving things to children to meet the adult's needs, not the child's needs.
Overindulgence is 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, so children experience scarcity in the midst of plenty. Overindulgence is doing or having so much of something that it does active harm 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 doing their developmental tasks, and from learning necessary life lessons.
The distressing aftereffects of having been overindulged included pain they seldom talked about, not knowing what is enough, not knowing how to do things other people know how to do, and not knowing appropriate social behaviors.
Does overindulgence always do harm? That is one of the ways to identify overindulgence. If it does harm, it is overindulgence. If it provides abundance, it makes life better.
The answer to Am I doing it? is often embedded in recognizing the fine line between abundance and too much. The answer to the question is that we probably all do it at times. Not because we have ill intent, but because we want good things for our children and it is difficult to separate an abundance of good things from too much of a good thing. Therefore, it is very important that we avoid any feelings of guilt or shame as we recognize that we may have overindulged. We can remember that our actions came from a good heart and we can use our goodwill to encourage ourselves to move on and to give us hope.
What does overindulgence look like?
It is easy to observe overindulgence when it shows itself in too many toys or too many clothes, but the comparison of overindulged adults with non indulged in both Study 22 and Study 33 revealed three different areas of overindulgence.
Too many things that money can buy. Too many clothes, too much equipment of all sorts, too many lessons, too much of anything that costs money.
Also, too much over-nurturing, doing things for children that they should be doing for themselves, letting them stay in the center of the universe after age two.
And, too soft structure, lax rules, not expecting or demanding that children do things for themselves or take other people's needs and wants into account.
Using a disproportionate amount of the family income on one child.
Providing so much that it keeps the child from learning tasks children that age should be learning.
We are also reminded that counting things is not always an accurate indicator of overindulgence -- that we need to look behind and beyond the count. This article is about too many things. There will be future articles about over-nurturing and soft structure.
Study 1: "Perceptions Attributed by Adults to Parental Overindulgence During Childhood" has previously been reported in the Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education Volume 16, No. 2, Fall/Winter, 1998, pp. 3-17 by David J. Bredehoft, Sheryll A. Mennicke, Alisa M. Potter and Jean Illsley Clarke, and in Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children (2nd Ed.) by Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson.
Study 2: "Overindulgence, Personality and Family Interaction Among College Students" Data Collection:
74 participants (43 female/31 male) at a midwestern private college during November 2000. Participants were recruited from psychology classes and given bonus points for their participation. Purpose of Study:
The primary purpose of study 2 was to figure out what type of family dynamics, dysfunctional attitudes, self-esteem attitudes, and life distresses are related to being overindulged as a child.
Study 3: "Overindulgence, Personality, Family Interaction and Parental Locus of Control" Data Collection:
We collected data using a web-based questionnaire from 391 participants (348 who had children and 43 who did not) December 21, 2000 – April 2, 2001. We recruited our subjects in three ways: through the authors’ mailing lists, media sources, and by word of mouth. Purpose of Study:
The primary purpose of study 3 was to figure out what type of family dynamics, dysfunctional attitudes, and parental beliefs are related to being overindulged as a child.