How Much Is TOO Much? Overindulging Your Teen

Black Friday shopping and Cyber Monday browsing may have many parents scrambling for Holiday gift ideas. While giving your teen gifts during this time of year can be a way to connect and show you care – it is also important to ask, how much is enough? This week’s Parenthetical post discusses the effects overindulgence can have on teens!

Remember the girl in college who couldn’t figure out how to do her own laundry or cook a frozen pizza?  Or the guy in high school whose parents bought him a brand new sports car for his sixteenth birthday, which he totaled before his seventeenth birthday?  These kids probably had parents that overindulged them.

What is overindulgence?

According to the authors of How Much is Enough?, overindulgence is doing or having so much of something that it does active harm or at least stagnates and deprives that person from achieving their full potential.  Overindulging or providing too much of a good thing (whether it is over-buying or over-nurturing or over-helping) takes away from a young person’s ability to learn self-reliance and decision making skills.

What does it mean for kids?

Do you remember Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?

She could be the poster child for overindulgence.  Let’s just say she made it clear to everyone (including her dad) that she wanted everything NOW; and even though she got lots of things in the moment, in the end, things didn’t go her way.  This is true for other overindulged kids, too.

Studies show a strong link between childhood overindulgence and lack of important life-skills as well as unhelpful attitudes and beliefs in later life.  Children who are overindulged are:

  • More selfish and less altruistic (less interested in the betterment of society, less willing to assist people in need, less inclined to do something without the expectation of something in return).
  • Unable to delay gratification (i.e., “You can play with Bobby when your chores are done.” or “You’ll likely earn more money and have a satisfying job if you complete college, despite the fact that you will be poorer and have less free time until you get your degree.”)
  • Lacking competency in everyday life skills, self-care skills, and skill of relating to others.

Unfortunately, research actually suggests that the current generation of kids is more overindulged than previous generations.

Why do parents overindulge?

Parents overindulge for lots of reasons.  They might overindulge because they have more material resources to give to kids, are making up for time taken away by busy work schedules, fear confrontation, rejection or guilt, or were overindulged as children themselves (or the opposite and are trying to make up for their own childhood deficiencies).  Parents who overindulge often have the best of intentions.  They might want to spare their kids discomfort and hurt, help them to “feel good,” provide their kids with the best that they can, or give them every opportunity.

What can parents do?

The Iowa State University blog, Science of Parenting, suggests asking yourself some questions as you make parenting decisions to help identify if the decision is overindulgent:

  1. Does my decision interfere with my child’s development? Does my decision get in the way of opportunities for my child to learn and take responsibility?
  2. Does my decision use too many resources to meet the WANTS (not the NEEDS) of the child? Are your decisions sometimes based on how you think others might see you rather than what you really believe is best for your child?
  3. Does my decision harm someone or something? Do you allow your child to back out of commitments when the going gets tough?  Will your child miss the opportunity to learn the life skills or self-control that he or she will need to become a healthy adult?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, the parenting decision you are contemplating may indeed be overindulgence.

To learn more contact your county extension educator, check out  or read How Much is Enough? by Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson & David J. Bredehoft.


Article by Anne Clarkson

Anne-Headshot-useAnne received her doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies from UW-Madison and is currently the Digital Parenting Education Specialist with UW-Extension Family Living Programs. Over the past 10 years, she has worked as an educator in the fields of community health, parenting, family studies, and digital education. She and her husband are excited to be starting their own parenting journey this summer. Anne was a pretty easy teenager whose parents worried more about pushing her to try new experiences than about her rebellious behavior. When not talking about families and technology, Anne loves to cook, read, travel, play board games, and take long walks (ideally along beaches but typically along sidewalks).