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No Rules
Not Enforcing the Rules
No Chores
+  Lots of Freedom

= Overindulgence Too
by   Dr. David Bredehoft,  Dr. Jean Illsley Clarke  and  Dr. Connie Dawson

This is the third in a series of articles based on three research studies on overindulgence conducted by Drs. David Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson in 1998, 2000, and 2001.
  Also see the researchers' Overindulgence.Info website!

 Soft Structure 
What do you think of when you hear the term "overindulgence"? When most people hear us use the term "overindulgence" they immediately think that overindulgence is only about giving children too much stuff. It isnít. It is about much more than that!

Not having rules or not enforcing your existing rules, not having chores and giving too much freedom are also forms of overindulgence!

Our three research studies have shown that overindulgence is a very complex issue involving more than just "stuff." Instead of one type of overindulgence there are actually three types of overindulgence:

  1. too much stuff
  2. over-nurturing
  3. soft structure
This article is the third in a series of articles on these three types of overindulgence. The first two articles focused on too much stuff (What's in the closet? Counting may not help) and over-nurturing (Too much of a good thing?: When helping stops being helpful?). This article will take a closer look at the last type of overindulgence: soft structure.

 Research on Soft Structure 
The statistical analysis from Study 2 (74 college students) and Study 3 (348 parents) show that the more individuals were overindulged as children, the more likely they were to agree with the following statements:

What do these statements have in common? The common denominator between them is structure, or lack of it. In this case it is what we call "soft structure". Soft structure includes things like not having or enforcing rules, lax rules (rules that parents bend when kids put on pressure), not having chores, and giving children too much freedom for the childís developmental stage and age.

 Why is Soft Structure a Form of Overindulgence? 
Soft structure is a form of overindulgence because: Chores teach many skills

 One Example of Not Having Rules or Not Enforcing the Rules 
(Consider the story of twins named Jamie and Josh.)

Fourteen month old Jamie and Josh are busily exploring their world. Regularly mom lets them scoot across the kitchen floor to a cabinet, open it up, and noisily pull out each pot and pan. "What a wonderful game you two are involved in," mom says. "I love the way you are learning about your world."

The next week Mom and Dad, Jamie and Josh go to visit some friends. As the friends chat in their living room, Jamie and Josh scurry around the living room floor. Before long they open the built in buffet and begin to pull out all of its contents. As the host-couple look nervously on, not knowing what to do, the twinsí mother says, "Arenít they cute! They are just a bundle of energy." Then she and her husband ignore the twins and continue with the adults in conversation.

Momís response to the twins at home seems appropriate and is not a form of overindulgence. However, to allow the twins to do the same thing at their friendsí house is soft structure overindulgence and a boundary violation. The twins are robbed of an opportunity to learn the important lesson that some behaviors which are appropriate at home are not appropriate in other places.

 One Example of Too Much Freedom 
(Consider the story of fifteen year old Susie and this recent discussion.)

Susie is brought into her therapist's office and she describes her problem. She is missing too much school and seems depressed. Her parents are divorced. They both have high visibility jobs and are very successful. Susie tells the therapist that her father, with whom she spends more time than her mother, was bothered by her calling her long-distance boyfriend and running up a $500 phone bill. "He asked me to get it down to around $350 next month," she said.

Later when the therapist commented that she was wearing an attractive outfit she replied passively "Oh yeah, I have a credit card. I probably spend around a thousand a month. Dad doesnít care. He doesn't even care how long I stay up on school nights. Weird, huh?"

Susieís dad is giving her too much freedom, soft structure. Without limits on her spending and rules on how late she is allowed to stay up on school nights, Susie will not learn money management and time management skills. Without these skills, she will have difficulties in adulthood.

 Not Too Soft and Not Too Hard 
As you can see, being too soft is not the answer. Desperate parents who are too soft on structure sometimes flip to the other side of the continuum thinking the answer lies in being too hard, rigid, or inflexible. Being too hard is not the answer either. The answer lies in the middle, in balance Ė a combination of effective nurture and structure.

 What Can Parents Do Instead of Being Too Soft or Too Hard? 
There are many ways that parents can find some middle ground. Some of them are:

For more wonderful ideas on what parents can do instead of being too soft or too hard and the use of effective nurture and structure see Growing Up Again, Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children (2nd Ed.) by Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson, published by Hazelden Press.

Series Introduction
Topic =
Too Many Things
Topic =
Topic =
Soft Structure
Topic =
Adult Pain
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