NEW YORK – If Willy Wonka was the dreamer of dreams, then some of today's parents are the fulfillers of kids' fantasies.
From overnight slumber parties at F.A.O. Schwarz to custom-crafted playhouses with marble floors, some children of the new millennium are getting the chance to live out their hearts' desires, thanks to their folks' willingness to overspend and desires to outdo the neighbors.
"Parents are going into debt and taking out loans to satisfy their children," said Dr. Susan Bartell (search), child psychologist and author of "Stepliving for Teens." "They use their kids as a projection of themselves as a means of impressing people."
Whether it means purchasing a $40,000 motorized mini-Ferrari Testarossa (search) or life-size Lincoln logs from KinderTimber, some parents are taking extreme measures in an effort to top the presents bought by their fellow PTA members.
“My son went to this sick birthday party. The parents basically had a carnival at their house that had rides — all for a bunch of five-year-olds," said Bartell. "They were basically sending out the message ‘We will sacrifice our life to give you a party.'"
While junior might enjoy carnivalesque parties, Bartell said caving in to a child's every whim does him no favors.
"[Overindulgent parents] breed kids who don't know what the word 'no' means," she said. "You are seeing older teenagers and young adults who are constantly waiting for the world to meet their needs instead of saying ‘Let me get a job and meet my own needs.'"
Even some now-grown people who admit to having been spoiled contend that privileged childhoods made it difficult to adjust to the disappointments of real life.
"If I ever wanted anything [my parents] bought it for me," said Robert Levine, 23, of New Jersey, whose parents showered him with over-the top-birthday parties. "That's why I am so ill adjusted. I have to have everything my way because I'm used to it being like that."
PoshTots.com, the Mecca for luxury children's items, has created a booming business helping parents give their rug rats the royal treatment. The Web site sells everything from a $47,000 playhouse called "Fort Bethesda" with a fireman's pole, turbo tube slide and a climbing wall to a $49 bunny "poof" skirt made of tulle for dress-up.
Andrea Edmunds, co-owner and president of the Virginia-based company, said she gets orders from all over the country — and beyond.
"We've had clients in Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Arizona — even Kuwait — although Florida and California are our heaviest areas," said Edmunds, who she sees nothing wrong with giving kids the moon and the sun.
"I don't think it's overindulgent at all," she said. "Parents shouldn't feel guilty because they are able to get their kids nice things."
And nice things parents are buying.
Eighteen-karat gold and silver necklaces with semi-precious stones by jeweler du jour David Yurman are adorning the tiniest of tots, while older kids are sporting $1,000 hair extensions and Gucci (search) hand bags.
Even kids who say they weren't spoiled themselves often reaped the benefits of their friends' rewards.
“I had a friend whose parents put in an indoor swimming pool just because he liked to swim," said twenty-one-year-old Jason Lesard of Southborough, Mass. "It was so cool. The roof above would open by pressing a button.”
Bartell said all the pampering can come from a parent's eagerness to impress his own kids as well as neighbors — but being overly attentive can backfire on moms and dads who sometimes end up seeming like a subordinate to Junior.
"Parents are afraid to disappoint their children and are afraid that if they say 'no,' they won't be liked," said Bartell. "After a while the kids just come to expect it. ... Nothing has any value anymore."
Not all indulged children view their parents as serfs.
When asked if he thought his parents were too submissive to his requests, Levine answered, "It wasn't like they were my slaves. They just wanted to make me happy."