Overindulged Children

By: Dr. Larry F. Waldman

An adolescent in Texas recently was in the news for killing and/or injuring several persons due to recklessly driving his new BMW while quite intoxicated.  Apparently, this teen had an alcohol-related incident a few months before this tragedy.  At trial a psychologist testified that this boy should not be incarcerated because he was a victim of his parents’ wealth and indulgence.  The syndrome was coined “Affluenza.”  Amazingly, the judge agreed and sentenced the teen to a 120 days in a posh treatment facility.

While “Affluenza” is not a recognized diagnosis, the term does refer to a common problem today—the overindulged child:

While it is often assumed that only children of rich parents are overindulged, that is not the case.  Many children from families of modest incomes are also overindulged.

Parents who overindulge their kids typically are unaware they are doing anything wrong.  They may be overindulgent because they were overindulged as children or they may have struggled as children and don’t want their offspring to “suffer” as they did.  These parents hold several false beliefs:

  •                   “I need to be my child’s best friend.”
  •                   “I must constantly entertain my child.”
  •                   “My child requires my assistance with nearly everything.”
  •                   “I show my love to my child by providing materialistic rewards.”

Overindulgent parents frequently exhibit the following inappropriate behaviors:

  •                   They set few, if any, boundaries for their child.
  •                   They tolerate unacceptable behavior in their child.
  •                   They interfere with the natural consequences of their child’s poor behavior.
  •                   They provide too many “toys” (like a new BMW) to their child regardless of the child’s acts.
  •                   They are overly permissive and allow too much freedom for the child at their age.

Children who have been overindulged have the following characteristics:

  •                   They test rules; rules are for others, not them.
  •                   They become dependent and non-self-reliant.
  •                   They lack persistence, are easily frustrated, and cannot tolerate failure.
  •                   They develop poor social skills, as they are self-centered, entitled, and demanding.
  •                   They lack empathy and appreciation.
  •                   They are easily bored.
  •                   Despite their façade of entitlement, they truly have low self-esteem.

In many respects parental overindulgence is a form of child abuse—which apparently is where the judge was coming from in the above case.  Effective parents should do the following:

  •                    Set clear expectations and rules and consistently enforce them.
  •                   Insist on appreciation and consideration of the family and others.
  •                   Confront irresponsible behaviors and apply reasonable consequences.
  •                   Monitor the child’s behavior and re-direct them when necessary.

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About Larry F. Waldman Ph.D., ABPP 

Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist who has practiced in the Paradise Valley area of Phoenix for 35 years.  He works with children, adolescents, parents, adults, and couples.  He also provides forensic consultations in the areas of family law, personal injury, and estate planning.  He speaks professionally to laypersons, educators, corporations, and fellow mental health professionals.  He teaches graduate courses for the Educational Psychology Department for Northern Arizona University.  He is the author of “Who’s Raising Whom?  A Parent’s Guide to Effective Child Discipline,” “Coping with Your Adolescent,” “How Come I Love Him But Can’t Live With Him?  Making Your Marriage Work Better,” “The Graduate Course You Never Had:  How to Develop, Manage, Market a Flourishing Private Practice—With and Without Managed Care,” and  “Too Busy Earning a Living to Make Your Fortune?  Discover the Psychology of Achieving Your Life Goals.”  His contact information is:  602-996-8619; 11020 N. Tatum Blvd., Bldg E, Suite 100, Phoenix, AZ  85028; LarryWaldmanPhD@cox.net; TopPhoenixPsychologist.comhttp://Facebook.com/LarryWaldmanphd