A Recipe for Raising Helpless Teenagers by David J. Bredehoft

What parent doesn’t want the best for her child?

What parent doesn’t want to protect his child from the same painful struggles he had to face as a child? What parent doesn’t want to make life easier for her son or his daughter?

Could this strategy actually backfire? Yes! Goodhearted well-meaning parents sometimes, unknowingly, raise helpless teenagers.

How do we know this? My colleges and I recently conducted a study with college students who were overindulged as children; mostly college freshmen ages 18-19. We found some startling things. In particular; parents who overindulged by over-loving their children and giving them too much attention, ones who didn’t require chores or enforce rules, raised teenagers who believed that they were helpless incapable young adults.

When Parents Overindulge

The more parents overindulged their teens as children, the more the teens ascribed to the following self-defeating thoughts:

·     I am incapable of dealing with most of life’s


·     I give up on new things if I am not successful.

When Parents are Over-loving and Give Too Much Attention

Teens whose parents were over-loving and gave them too much attention when they were growing up, also accept as true the following dysfunctional beliefs: 

·     People will not respect me if I do not do well all the time.

·     It is a sign of weakness if a person asks for help.

·     It is best to give up on your own interests in order to please other people.

When Parents Don’t Require Chores

The more our sample indicated their parents did not expect them to do chores when they were growing up, the more likely they believed in dysfunctional thinking: 

·     There is little point in doing it at all if you cannot do

      something well.

·     It probably indicates that he does not like me if someone

      disagrees with me.

·     If a person I love doesn’t love me I am nothing.

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When Parents Don’t Enforce Rules

Finally, the more our college-age sample said parents did not enforce rules when they were growing up, the more likely they accepted the following self-defeating thoughts:

·     I soon give up if I am not initially successful when trying to learn something new.

·     I stop trying if I can’t do a job the first time.

·     I have problems because I cannot get down to work when I should.

When parents overindulge they unknowingly train their children to become helpless, and as a result, these overindulged children will have greater difficulty in reaching future vocational, educational, and monetary goals.

It’s Never Too Late

Don’t give up hope! It is never too late to make adjustments in your parenting. Difficult, but not too late. Focus on one thing at a time and make small changes. When you hit resistance, which you will, be firm and resolved because after all, you want what is best for your children.

Tips for avoiding overindulgence

·     Gradually give your teens freedom appropriate for their ages.

·     Encourage your teens to solve their own problems.

·     Teach your teens to do chores and expect them to complete them.

·     Agree on a set of rules and enforce them.

·     Decide which of your rules are negotiable and which are nonnegotiable.


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).

All photos from MorgueFile free photo. 


© David J. Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke & Connie Dawson 2004-2024;  bredehoft@csp.edu