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Growing confident, capable kids

October 11, 2018

Extension research and education on overindulgence with Jean Illsley Clarke

Little girl shopping with father


Jean Illsley Clarke wants parents to know that overindulging children isn’t just about buying them designer clothes and iPhones, although that certainly can add to a family’s financial stress. “The problem isn’t, at heart, about too much stuff,” she says. 

“Overindulgence includes doing things for kids that they can do themselves, not enforcing rules, and not expecting kids to do chores,” says Clarke, age 93, an internationally recognized family studies scholar and educator. “All of these can have serious repercussions for a child’s development.”

True to her passion, she provides the Jean Illsley Clarke Fund for Online Parent Education, along with her unique expertise, to support University of Minnesota Extension in developing resources that strengthen families.

Bringing parenting education into the digital age

Clarke, with Connie Dawson and David Bredehoft, have collaborated on the Overindulgence Research Project since 1996.

Jean Illsley Clarke
Jean Illsley Clarke

Ten studies with more than 3,500 research participants provided insight into childhood overindulgence and its subsequent effect on adults through their book, How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children—From Toddlers to Teens—In an Age of Overindulgence.

Since 2015, the research and the tools already in use through in-person classes guided a multidisciplinary team from Extension’s Center for Family Development, with Clarke, in developing an interactive online learning platform for a wireless technology-driven population. These easily accessible courses on Extension’s Overindulgence website reach parents, grandparents, guardians, and professionals, childcare providers, teachers, caregivers and professionals.

The online courses include Parenting in the Age of Overindulgence, Parenting with a Good Heart, and Developmental Parenting Highway. In addition, Clarke wrote a small companion book, Good Heart Parenting: A Journey of Love and Strength that accompanies the online courses.

Philanthropy advances Extension’s mission

“University of Minnesota Extension’s goal is to ensure that community members, young and old, urban and rural, have access to relevant and current research and tools,” says Mary Jo Katras, Extension family development program leader. “Our educators working with Clarke bring experience with low-income, culturally diverse families and families in transitionin the areas of nutrition, public health, finance and relationships.”

Family life has evolved since Clarke earned her bachelor’s degree in 1948, her master’s degree in human development, and her honorary doctorate from the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development, which named her as one of its 100 most distinguished alumni. 

“Making charitable gifts is important to me,” says Clarke. “It is especially exciting to invest in this program with Extension family development educators,” she says. “It’s also important to plant the seeds of philanthropy in the younger generation.”

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