Are we turning our kids into narcissists?

Parenting has changed a lot in the past few generations. These days, families are much more child-centered than they were even 30 years ago. Kids also tend to be more scheduled and exposed to more structured learning opportunities than they once were. On top of that, they have their every move captured and shared with loved ones far and wide.

Discipline has gone from correction through corporal punishment to gentler methods and parents are focused less on training a child to behave and more on ensuring their kids grow up with a healthy self-esteem.

Since the 1970s, self-esteem has been a focus of Western parenting and we have seen it fostered in different ways with varying success. However it seems narcissism has also increased among Western youth during these years – leading some to question whether our attempts to instill self-esteem have caused it.

First, it is important to differentiate between self-esteem and narcissism. People with high self-esteem tend to feel satisfied with themselves but do not consider themselves to be better than others.

In contrast, a narcissist feels superior to others and entitled to special privileges, treatment and attention.

Not surprisingly, self-esteem is a desirable quality to instill in children, - we know that adults with healthy self-esteem tend to be happier and enjoy satisfying social relationships. Narcissism is another question and isn’t adaptive in later life.

There are several views on how our personalities form – one says genetics plays the biggest role, one supposes life experiences continuously mold and change the personality. A third theory finds a middle ground between these two. Those who hold this view acknowledge some genetic basis to personality but believe childhood interactions and experiences also work to shape a personality.

Some researchers in this field have examined different parenting styles and how they work to either develop high self-esteem or narcissism.

According to Eddie Brummelman in a recent issue of Scientific American, parenting with self-esteem in mind means treating children with warmth and letting them know they are loved and valued - it doesn’t mean teaching them they can do no wrong or that they are superior to others.

Some even suggest parenting for self-compassion over self-esteem. Instead of teaching our kids they are good at everything, we can teach them to value and forgive themselves when they’re not. It means praising a child’s worth and teaching them to be resilient in failure. 

Narcissism, on the other hand, is cultivated by parents who over-value their kids. These parents teach their children they are unique and extraordinary. They tend to overestimate their child’s qualities and believe their child is smarter than he or she actually is. In addition to over-estimating, parents in this vein also give too much praise even for poor performance. Over time, this kind of parenting can lead to narcissism as children believe their parents’ evaluation.

Sometimes it is difficult to see the line between parenting for self-esteem or narcissism. It is possible to be warm and affectionate with children and teach them they are valued without over-praising or giving inflated assessments of their abilities and talents.

 

 

 

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