Stacey Lacerte and her 8-year-old daughter, Blake, love to shop so much they're at the Pheasant Lane Mall near their home in Merrimack, N.H., two or three times a week.
Blake likes to shop for toys, even though her toy chest at home is already filled.
"It's hard to find something new for her at a store, which is kind of sad, because she has it all," her mother said. "But if there is something new, she has to get it."
Blake's father also finds it hard to deny Blake anything. In fact, he never does.
"It's hard to say no, because she's so good," said her father, Mike Lacerte.
How Spoiled Is Too Spoiled?
Her mother admits she is worried that the indulgence may go too far.
"I've always spoiled her," Stacey Lacerte said. "I know I do that. But the problem I had was that she was turning a little bit into the spoiled rotten sort of category — like not appreciating things so much."
She is right to worry. Research shows that an overindulged child can grow up to be a self-absorbed, unmotivated and depressed teenager. When parents give to a child all the time, the youngster learns that every wish will be gratified. The child never learns how to tolerate frustration, or how to do or get things on his or her own.
When that indulged child becomes a teen, he will be at risk for wanting that instant gratification all the time, which can lead to drug and alcohol problems and promiscuity, as well as difficulties in school, child development experts say.
Blake's parents are divorced. She lives with her mother in a house filled with children's toys. Blake's bedroom, which she shares with her little sister, 2-year-old Ryleigh, is crammed with stuffed animals, dolls and collectibles, not to mention a computer, TV and PlayStation. The living room is dominated by a giant toy box. Even the kitchen has a stash of toys. The garage contains not one bike, but six — as well as a $900 motorized scooter.
Toys Collecting Dust
Blake's stepfather, Jeff Dupont, hoped that the basement would be his office, but he's been forced to forget about it. The room is toy central.
"We don't have any room in the house," Dupont said. "And it affected me and Stacey. Things don't get used, and they just sit there. You know, downstairs is just wall-to-wall toys. Closets are full, and the new stuff's still coming in the door. And the old stuff's just getting stacked up."
He worries that Ryleigh may become spoiled as she gets older, too.
Even Blake admits that there are toys that she can't remember playing with lately and others that she has not opened. She might be better off with fewer toys, Blake concedes.
But her dad, Mike Lacerte, who sees Blake two or three times a week, has stocked her bedroom with more toys and stuffed animals. He even built his daughter her own dance studio and allows her to choose the activity each time they see each other.
"It's always what she wants to do," Mike Lacerte said. "Because I want her to be happy in her time with me, and it's not a lot of time. So we try to make it the best."
Blake doesn't just get her way when it comes to toys. According to her mother, Blake is the boss in family purchases. When she fell in love with a car that had five video screens, her stepdad bought it for the family.
Even vacations revolve around Blake. In the past year she has been on eight trips: three to Disney World, three to New York, and two to the Bahamas.
When she is in the mall with her mother and her mom says that she already has too much stuff, Blake sometimes gets a little out of control.
"Sometimes, I would throw a fit,"' she said.
Overindulgence Isn't Cheap
Having an overindulged child can be costly, and Stacey Lacerte says it has affected her ability to save money.
"I don't save because I spend it on the girls, on Blake," Lacerte said.
But she is worried about what will happen if Blake has to be responsible for herself, and she has good reason to worry.
Unspoiling Your Child
It is never too late to start on the road to unspoiling a child. To help Blake's parents, Good Morning America gave a series of suggestions.
1. Substitute Time for Toys: The most important piece of advice is to substitute time for toys because what children crave most is attention from their parents. Blake loves to bake with her mother, and her father is now scheduling time to play ball with Blake. Even an extra 30 minutes a week is a better gift for a child than a toy. 2. Involve the Whole Family: Blake has an adoring grandpa, who would always take her toy shopping after their regular lunch dates. Now, Stacey will encourage him to plan an activity, such as reading, instead. 3. Set Clear Limits: Finally, parents have to set clear limits with their children. Stacey and Blake do not have to give up shopping, but when they do shop, the time to say "no" is before entering the store. Stacey has to tell Blake, "We're not buying anything for you today," and then stick to her guns. If Blake throws a fit, they leave. If she is good, Stacey should reward her with a compliment and some fun mom-daughter activity.
4. Recommended Reading: Here are some books that deal with spoiled children.
Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age, by Dan Kindlon Spoiling Childhood: How Well-Meaning Parents Are Giving Children Too Much — But Not What They Need, by Diane Ehrensaft
Loving Without Spoiling, by Nancy Samalin