Tis the Season for...Overindulgence?
As we move through this holiday season, children of all ages are creating wish lists, and parents are scrambling to buy items that beg the question, “How much is TOO much?”
What is overindulgence?
The authors of How Much is Too Much? state that overindulgence is doing or having so much of something that it does active harm or at least stagnates and deprives a person from achieving their full potential.
This idea brought to mind Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter series. Dudley is Harry’s cousin and the only child of Vernon and Petunia Dursley. Dudley is given his way in almost every instance, and he could be the poster child for overindulgence. In the first film, when Dudley celebrated his birthday and counted his presents, he was mortified that he had one fewer than his last birthday.
Dudley Dursley (looking at his large pile of birthday gifts): “How many are there?”
Vernon Dursley: “36, counted ‘em myself!”
Dudley (angrily): 36?! But last year, last year I had 37!”
Before he could have a tantrum, his mother promised that when the family went out, she would buy him two additional presents so he would have one more than last year. Satisfied with this, Dudley did not throw a fit. Throughout the series, his parents treat him as though he can do no wrong, all while treating Harry very poorly. As a result, Dudley fails to develop empathy and socials skills relating to others.
What does this mean for kids?
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.
Many children are given “stuff” that they didn’t really want, didn’t ask for, didn’t wish for, and didn’t have to wait for. In addition, very few children are asked to contribute daily (or even weekly) to their family work or even to attend to their own self-care. When this happens, kids don’t learn the difference between wants and needs. They don’t learn to postpone their wants until an appropriate time, and, often, they become self-centered and unable to delay gratification. When they become adults, they never know when they have enough, so they have difficulty being happy with what they have and managing their resources.
What can parents do?
The Test of Four is a tool to help parents and children learn about what is enough. Using the Test of Four as a guide toward personal responsibility and self-control encourages clear thinking and good decision making.
The Test of Four consists of asking questions in four key categories about a situation when overindulgence may occur. Use the test for one problem at a time. Answering “yes” to any questions in any four categories is a signal that overindulgence might occur or exists.
1. Developmental tasks?
- Will doing of giving this keep my child from learning what he or she needs to learn at this age?
2. Family Resources?
- Will doing or giving this use a disproportionate (or inappropriate) amount of family resources, including money, space, time, energy, or attention, to meet the wants (not the needs) of one or more of your children?
3. Whose needs?
- Will doing or giving this be beneficial to you, the parents, more than the child?
- Will doing or giving this draw attention to activities you like but are counter to the child’s interests and abilities?
4. Possible harm?
- Will doing or giving this deplete or otherwise harm others, the community, or the environment in some way?
Knowing what ENOUGH is will help a child manage resources, gauge happiness, develop empathy, and navigate the path to responsible adulthood.
Examples of When to Use the Test of Four
- While on vacation should my child get a treat or toy to commemorate the trip?
- Is my child doing his or her share of household tasks?
- Should I do a majority of my child’s special interest school project?
- Should I buy new shoes my child wants or a purse I need for myself?
Every Situation and Family is Unique
The great thing about the Test of Four is that it helps families decide what is best for their family, and should not be used as a comparison between other families. Different families have different resources and different needs. What causes one family great joy may cause stress in another. What is an easy purchase for one family would cause another family to go hungry. However, be sure to remember that just because you can easily afford something or you have room for it in your home does not mean that it would not be overindulgent.
The Test of Four is a great way for children age 6 and over to be included in family decision making. This process can be used when deciding on the amount of time to spend on media screens, what to do on the weekend, or whether to play league sports versus traveling sports. The Test of Four is a great way to help children learn to make confident, responsible, well thought-out decisions.
For Further Information:
For more information about the book How Much is Too Much? by Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson, & David Bredehoft, visit http://www.overindulgence.info/
Further resources for How Much is Too Much? http://www.overindulgence.info/resources-for-parents/how-much-is-too-much-book.html
University of Minnesota Extension has a wonderful video about how to use The Test of Four: https://youtu.be/TKQJJaA68EU