We all want the best for our kids. We want to raise them into well adjusted human and social beings.
But we get lost in the sea of parenting practices and parenting styles, among which indulgent parenting might be one of the harmful ones.
Why is that so?
In order to answer that question we must define indulgent parenting:
Indulgent parenting, or in other terms permissive parenting, is one of four parenting styles:
- authoritative parenting
- authoritarian parenting
- permissive parenting (indulgent parenting)
- neglectful parenting
The sole term parenting style in psychology is based on the work of Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley.
Baumrind noticed that preschool children had different types of behavior. She concluded that those types of behavior corresponded to specific parenting styles. Essentially that connection will have inevitable consequences on the children’s lives.
In the 1960s, Baumrind recognized three different parenting styles (authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive).
In 1983, Maccoby and Martin made some additions to her theory. To be more precise, they saw the need to divide permissive parenting style into two different styles: permissive/indulgent parenting and neglectful parenting, which in essence indicates uninvolved parenting.
Permissive/indulgent parenting, as the name itself indicates, refers to parents who indulge the wishes of their children and give them excessive freedom. It’s characterized by low demands with high responsiveness.
Children are loved and safe, but they lack the discipline and guidance that parenting should provide. While the parents have the best intentions, they are actually doing more harm than good.
They wish their kids to be happy, satisfied, and at peace, that’s why they don’t set any boundaries and go above and beyond to please them.
To make things clearer, we will step-by-step explain the behavior of these parents, then move on to the consequences that this parenting method has on children and their adult life later on.
There are a few main characteristics of indulgent parents:
- Parents don’t enforce rules, and if they do, the rules are random and inconsistent.
- They don’t establish clear boundaries and allow the child to act according to his/her will.
- That doesn’t in any way mean they don’t pay attention to their child; they do. They are actually too involved in their child’s life; they just allow them to get away with a lot.
- They are always at their child’s service, attentive to their needs and wants, and hardly ever say “no” to anything their child asks for.
- They act as one of their child’s friends, not their parents.
- The child has no schedules, set timelines, routines, or house chores whatsoever. Therefore, they can’t learn what responsibility is.
- Big decisions are made jointly or at the child’s initiative, instead of the parents’.
- There are situations in which they use sweets, toys, or gifts as a bribe to make their kids behave properly.
- There are no consequences to the child’s bad behavior.
- They do all of this with good intentions and their child’s happiness in mind, but what they fail to see is they are turning their child into someone who is codependent and lowering his/her life aspirations.
The effect indulgent parenting has on a child’s life
Even though they mean well, indulgent parents are not doing their children any favors. By not setting any boundaries in early childhood, they are not giving their children the real idea of life.
Also, one of the main problems is that parents’ permissiveness reflects on their children’s health. Let’s say a child is picky when it comes to food and they mainly eat things that fall into thefast-food category, of course, it will impact their health in a negative way.
What a child needs in this particular case is a parent who will encourage healthy eating habits. A parent who will put their child’s health before their wishes and demands.
Children, in general, need boundaries and they need parents who will set them. That’s why it’s the adults who do the parenting. Children shouldn’t raise themselves.
Let’s see all the negative consequences of indulgent parenting style:
1. Children have a false image that the world is there to fit them
Their parents bend over backward to please them. They basically do their best to grant them every wish and need they have.
So they grow up thinking that everybody’s going to treat them like that. They will soon enough find out that will never happen and won’t be pleased with how life turned out.
They’re not used to solving problems, so they will waste energy blaming others instead of looking for solutions or improving themselves.
They will never stop to think that they’re in need of improvement because they believe they are good enough the way they are. Their parents praised every little thing they did right, and they are used to giving minimal efforts and receiving big rewards in return.
2. Their level of self-control is low
The best way to explain this is through an example. Let’s say your child likes watching cartoons – if you don’t stop him, he’ll watch non-stop without feeling the need to stop, eat, sleep, or use the toilet.
That’s where the parents should come in with setting boundaries. Boundaries teach children to be disciplined, to say, “No, I can’t watch TV all day. I have better things to do.”
Without self-discipline and with low expectations of themselves, these children are at risk of developing behavioral problems, alcoholism, and drug use later in life.
The lack of boundaries has taught them that whatever they do, they’ll suffer no consequence. That’s why, by the time they are at school, they already have zero respect for authority and it’s hard for them to adjust to school rules.
With all that said, it’s no wonder that discipline problems arise. While they are used to regular applause from their parents for every minor accomplishment, their school achievement is not praise-worthy. When they don’t receive the same from their teachers and other adults in their life, they feel lost.
Later on in life they lack motivation for work and have no idea what healthy work habits are.
3. They have difficulties socializing and maintaining meaningful relationships later on in life
Children of permissive parents tend to be self-centered and demanding, which results in poor social skills.
Other people don’t appreciate their bossy attitude and cut them off, instead of playing along with their demandingness.
They have a hard time making friends and romantic relationships are a challenge to them because they never learned how to compromise.
It’s their way or the highway. If not, they get angry and frustrated. Other people are not ready to put up with that – at least not for long.
4. Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem are connected to indulgent parenting
Although a stable and loving home is crucial to a child’s development and a precondition of developing good self-esteem, it can only go so far.
These kids grow up and need to face the world on their own, but they are unprepared. They never faced problems without their parent’s help. They never learned the importance of internalizing or externalizing certain issues.
What they are used to are big praises for small things and getting a lot for minimal effort. Basically, they are spoiled and they didn’t have to work hard for anything in their young lives.
The demands that adult life brings are too much for them to handle. They lack the motivation to persevere once they fail at something. They are more prone to giving up than fighting when problems arise.
That’s where low self-esteem kicks in. They feel like they are good for nothing, and become anxious and depressed as a result.
On the other hand, children who learned the value of hard work and how to solve problems and learn from them are more successful. They don’t give up when it gets tough. They keep on fighting and boldly face every challenge. They are constantly building their self-esteem and making it stronger.
5. Patience is an unknown concept to them
They want it all and they want it now. They don’t get that some things take time and can’t magically appear overnight.
Enjoying the fruits of their labor once they put in all the necessary work and effort into it seems difficult.
For instance, if they have money, they spend it immediately as they never had to save to buy anything. As a result, they struggle financially and can’t make ends meet without their parent’s help.
6. They grow into immature adults
They do what they want to do and not the things they should do. So for example, if they want to go to the movies, they’ll go even if they know that they have to study for a test the next day and the movies will still be there when they are finished with their obligations.
They choose things that interest them and completely ignore things that they are required to do for their own wellbeing or for the wellbeing of others.
They’ve never learned how to be responsible. So they simply choose not to do things that aren’t fun to them. It doesn’t matter if they are toddlers, college students, or working people. It makes no difference.
That mindset directly affects their academic achievement, lowers the chances for success, and more importantly, ruins their social relationships. As they are irresponsible to themselves, they are also towards other people.
Furthermore, they are unable to take responsibility for their actions. They think they can never do anything wrong and that their way of doing things is the best. So they place the blame on others.
Indulgent parenting vs. other parenting styles
Most of the child development experts across the globe agree that indulgent parenting is not the way to go when raising children.
Without boundaries, enforced rules, and guidance, children lack the foundations and skills they need to live a well-rounded life as adults.
Aside from the aforementioned four parenting styles developed by Diana Baumrind, you might also come across the term helicopter parents.
Many equalize this term with permissive parents, but they are way off track. While permissive parents allow their kids to do things their way, helicopter parents fly over them constantly like helicopters (hence the term).
They don’t teach their kids how to be independent, but how to rely on them completely. Let’s say a child of a helicopter parent has a lot of homework to do over the weekend; they will either sit by their side while they do it or even do it for them.
They will go to every soccer practice. They will sit and listen while their child plays an instrument. They are omnipresent. They get too involved in their child’s life and it seems like they are living it for them.
With that in mind, let’s get back to our four parenting styles. They have their faults too.
For instance, the authoritarian parenting style also doesn’t prepare children for their adult lives.
Authoritarian parents enforce rules and have high control over their children, but where they are lacking is providing their children with a sense of love and warmth.
The children are obedient, but not because they have learned something from their mistakes – they fear their parents and punishment. They are more focused on the ways in which they can avoid punishment than on what they have done wrong. Some of them become expert liars because they developed a coping mechanism for the authoritarian parenting style.
Neglectful or uninvolved parenting sounds awful just from reading it aloud and it’s worse for children with these kinds of parents. They show no interest in their child’s life or upbringing. They put clothes on their bodies and food in their stomachs, and that’s about as far as their parenting goes.
There are no rules or control because they don’t care what their children do as long as they don’t annoy them much. Love and warmth are also missing. So children end up raising themselves.
Sadly, that’s not how things should go and children of neglectful parents suffer a lot throughout life. They feel rejected and unloved, so low-self esteem and self-love are nonexistent. That usually transforms them into unhappy adults with low academic achievement and poor expectations of themselves.
Still, there is a silver lining and the best of all parenting styles – the authoritative parenting style.
It sounds a lot like authoritarian parenting, but it’s not the same – not even close. This parenting behavior includes enforcing boundaries, setting the rules, and uttering the expectations, all while giving a child the warmth and love he/she requires and deserves.
Their children have all predispositions of growing up into well-rounded, self-loving, happy adults.
The basis of the authoritative style is the use of conversation skills. They explain the reasons behind the rules and boundaries. They listen to what their children have to say and show respect for their opinions, but don’t necessarily agree with them.
Authoritarian parenting has a positive effect on a child’s emotional and mental health.
If you are a parent of an adolescent and you want to learn more about it, there is a great read by Steinberg L, Lamborn SD, Dornbusch SM, and Darling N, entitled Impact of parenting practices on adolescent achievement: authoritative parenting, school involvement, and encouragement to succeed.
5 ways to fix the damage indulgent parenting made
If you recognized yourself throughout this article, you probably feel it’s time to change your parenting behavior, you are on the right track.
This type of parenting won’t bring anything good to your children and if you truly want what’s best for them, you will have to put their wants second and their wellbeing first.
1. Set some ground rules together
The rules are individual and they will vary according to your child’s age and personal preferences. For example, if your child loves to play video games, you can limit that time to two hours per day.
Explain that there are other things they need to focus on, that staring at the screen for longer for two hours is not good for their eyes, that they have homework, etc.
The important thing is that your child knows the reasons behind your actions to understand them better. By implementing this time restriction, you are teaching your child that they can’t do only the things that interest them but also the things that are necessary.
That there’s a time to play and a time to work and be serious. This one simple rule teaches them about self-regulation, healthy working habits, and responsibilities.
Analyze what rules your child needs, write them down if they are able to read, or simply talk to them and keep repeating the rules if they are younger.
2. If these rules are broken, there will be certain consequences to face
As I mentioned before, one of the biggest issues is that children of permissive parents never face consequences for anything, so they are unable to take responsibility for their mistakes.
What happens when rules are broken is something you have to establish before they even get broken and inform your child about them. Improvizing is not a good choice.
For instance, if you have a younger child, timeouts are good as a disciplinary method. For older kids, losing certain privileges, like taking their cell for a few hours or switching off the internet for a day, is more efficient.
3. If rules aren’t broken, there are rewards
Just as bad behavior must be disciplined, good behavior must be rewarded. Many parents promise to buy their kids candy or a toy if they behave, which is not a bad method, but not the best either.
The reward might be one more bedtime story or additional cartoon, half an hour more for playing video games or watching TV, etc.
4. Trust your children but protect them
No matter how much you trust your children, you have to monitor their behavior until they come of age and it will be especially hard during their teenage phase.
You do the raising at home, but a great deal of it happens outside of your home. They spend time with their friends and schoolmates, and they might try things that they usually wouldn’t just out of pure peer pressure.
Getting drunk at a young age, substance abuse, and delinquent behavior is pretty common among young people of the United States. Recognize the symptoms in time and deal with them; don’t close your eyes if your gut tells you something is off.
Parental control is also a good choice if your child spends a lot of time glued to their phone or computer. You never know who is lurking out there.
So trust your children, but make sure they are safe and sound.
5. Consistency is key
What does consistency mean in this situation? It means standing behind the decisions you made for your child.
Breaking the rules has to have consequences every time so that the child knows they are doing something wrong. That’s the only way to learn.
They often might not agree with you and show their disapproval because they will test the boundaries you established. Make sure they don’t move those boundaries – they are there for their own good.