Yes, say the authors of a new book How Much Is Too Much? This story illustrates their point.
The parents of a fifteen-year-old girl, call her Amber, is brought to a therapist with a plea to “help us get through to her.”
“Get through to her about what?”
She either doesn’t do her schoolwork or does it and doesn’t turn it in. Her grades are rotten and getting worse. Lots of days, she just doesn’t go to school at all. She doesn’t listen to us. She’s bright and we can’t get her to look at colleges. It’s as though we aren’t there. Please find out what’s wrong! We’ve given up, but we’re worried.”
Now it’s the therapists’ problem to get to the bottom of Amber’s troublesome, self-defeating behavior. How can she help Amber and her parents find a better way to live their lives?
Amber’s life, by her own report, is okay. She has pretty much everything she wants. Clothes, electronic gear, money for concerts, ski trips, you name it…. and a generous allowance to boot.
It appears that Amber has been given anything she wanted, even expensive stuff in she didn’t even want. She has so much that it’s all seems like NOTHING to her. The therapist can see Amber can’t tell the difference between wants and needs. If she wants, something, it becomes something she absolutely needs. NOW.
Amber describes her parents as “nice” and doesn’t seem to be angry at them. She speaks in a monotone and there’s little life to be seen in her eyes.
In the back of her mind, the therapist wonders. “How in the world has Amber learned that she is helpless, useless, worthless?” The therapist presses for more information.
As she was growing up, Amber had problems at school, in the neighborhood, with friends, and at home. “Nothing real big,” says Amber. But as the story unfolds, it was clear that Mom and Dad had rescued her every time. They didn’t like to see Amber in distress.
They softened expectations and actually got in the way of Amber’s experiencing the consequences of her actions. They did things for her she was capable of doing for herself. As they over-functioned, she responded by under-functioning.
When the therapist discovers that Amber had, from birth, been the center of attention at home and was allowed to have more freedom than she was equipped to handle, it was clear what was going on.
Amber’s behavior was a reaction to the too-much-lovingness of her parents. Her parents NEVER intended to disempower her, to train her to be irresponsible, to train her to be helpless, but that was the impact of HOW they loved her. All they wanted was for their valued daughter was for her to be happy.
In their desire to love her and for her to be happy, Amber’s parents overindulged her. Now they were the helpless ones. They never expected their “love” would turn out this way.
Ten recent studies of adults who were overindulged as children reveal the impact of childhood overindulgence on self-esteem. These adults are the experts of their own childhood experiences. In retrospect, they knew what pieces were missing. Using their information, we know the pitfalls and the “what-to-do-insteads” for parents.
The authors’ short definition of overindulgence is: Overindulgence is giving children so much of anything that it keeps them from learning their developmental tasks and it has a negative effect on their adult lives.
On the hopeful side of all this, most parents can accomplish becoming more helpful to their children using the skills they have now. As Amber’s therapist said, “It’s not all about what the parents are doing. It’s what they’re not doing.”
In Amber’s case, the therapist helped the family recover the path to happiness they had intended for themselves. One step at a time.
There is more help about avoiding overindulgence in How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children – From Toddlers To Teens – In An Age of Overindulgence (2014, DaCapo Press Lifelong Books).