A few hours after watching some of the “My Super Sweet Sixteen” show yesterday, it occurred to me that you really don’t have to have much money to be indulgent to your child. Just let them know they can twist you around for whatever they want and you’ll have a kid just as spoiled as this birthday girl. You may not have all the bling to show off, but any kid of any economic stature can find things they want to have and want to do. And when they want it badly enough, they will push hard to get it.
If you give in continuously because you feel guilty about something, or don’t feel confident in your parenting, or you aren’t comfortable seeing your child upset, you may have become an indulgent parent. It might have started because of a divorce, family turmoil, or your child being sick a lot. It’s natural and understandable to want to give more to make up for a loss or because you don’t feel comfortable saying “no”. Yet, every indulgent action has its price.
It may seem like you have a good relationship with your child because you never fight about them going out with their friends. In fact, you let them go with whomever wherever and whenever. It keeps the peace at home. But when they stumble into the wrong crowd, what are the odds they will listen to you when you tell them they can’t hang with those kids? About as high as that birthday girl becoming a safe driver with that ridiculous mega-Hummer.
What you have at the end of teenage-hood is a child who doesn’t understand the value of limits, either set by others or by themselves. They learn to let their emotions rule. They see other people (especially authority figures) as obstacles instead of individuals to be respected.
Once you realize what has happened, it’s time to start making change. Of course, the earlier this is done the better. Turning it around can be a big big challenge. And quite honestly, if your child has been indulged their whole life, your actions alone may not be enough to help them make a change. The hard knocks of adulthood may need to do that job.
If you are ready to take on the challenge, get a few things in order first. Make sure that you and your child’s other parent (or your partner or a family friend committed to helping you) are on the same page about the rules. This will keep you from being divided and conquered. Find and set the boundaries that make sense such as curfew, approved locations, allowance, etc. Be prepared to back up your firmness with consequences you can pull off every time – taking the TV out of the room, taking the car keys, calling parents of other kids, and so on.
And then dig in with both heels because it could get ugly if the indulgence has developed over a long time. Lovingly tell them that you didn’t do all you were supposed to as a parent, and now you are teaching them some important things about growing up. Even if you don’t seem to be successful, you are sending a message about responsibility and limits. It may take time before it sinks in, but it’s your opportunity to have some impact.
What happens when this birthday girl becomes an adult and has to pay for the insurance on her Hummer? What has he taught her to this point to help her appreciate what she needs to do as an independent adult? Who knows. My hope is that dear old Dad eventually cuts her off so she can learn how to make her own fortune in the world.
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Last reviewed: 15 Jul 2009