We’re Raising A Generation Of Narcissists By Constantly Telling Kids They’re Special

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200327335-001A new study from Ohio State University suggests that constantly praising your child when it is undeserved is probably turning him into a raging narcissist. The findings imply we may be going too far by treating everything they do as “special” or worthy of praise. The intent may be to raise secure, confident children — but we may instead be over-inflating their egos.

The study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences put two theories behind why children turn into narcissists up against each other, to see which one proved true. The first, the social learning theory, suggests that kids become narcissists when they are “over-valued” by their parents. The second, the psychoanalytic theory, suggests that kids may grow to exhibit narcissistic behavior when their parents withhold warmth. The study examined children in late childhood (7-12). From the abstract, “in four 6-mo waves, 565 children and their parents reported child narcissism, child self-esteem, parental overvaluation, and parental warmth.” The researchers concluded:

Results support social learning theory and contradict psychoanalytic theory: Narcissism was predicted by parental overvaluation, not by lack of parental warmth. Thus, children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them (e.g., “I am superior to others” and “I am entitled to privileges”).

Self-esteem, what parents may be trying to instill by constantly praising their children, was actually the result of parental warmth — not an over-inflation of a child’s talents.

This just makes sense. Constantly showering our children with compliments and praise even when they are unworthy of that praise is doing nothing but teaching them that every, single thing they do is special and worthy of attention.  Brad Bushman, co-author of the study, told Forbes, “People with high self-esteem think they’re as good as others, whereas narcissists think they’re better than others. Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others. That may not be good for them or for society.”

The study stresses the importance of early intervention to reduce the cost that narcissism has on society. Yes, it really is a problem. The abstract points out that “narcissistic individuals feel superior to others, fantasize about personal successes, and believe they deserve special treatment. When they feel humiliated, they often lash out aggressively or even violently.”

Want to raise a functional member of society who doesn’t feel entitled to special treatment or lash out aggressively at others? Stop showering him with praise and give him a hug.

(photo: Getty Images)