Parenting in the age of Narcissism: Are you setting your child up for failure?

Self-esteem is critical to the development of a child’s sense of worth. As a parent for over 17 years, I’ve tried to nurture a healthy sense of self-esteem in my son without going overboard. It’s been challenging to raise a humble, grateful and compassionate kid in a culture saturated with “Spoiled rotten” baby bibs and “I’m in charge” kids t-shirts.

Think carefully: do you really want your child to act like a 'diva?'

But what raises a child’s self-esteem? Is it by telling them they’re “great” and “unique” even when they’re really just average? Does thinking that your kid may only be “average” make you cringe? Has our desire to improve our children’s self-esteem had unintended consequences?

According to Dr. Jean M. Twenge and Dr. W. Keith Campbell, authors of The Narcissism Epidemic, it has. Many parents have relinquished authority to their children, “showering them with unearned praise” with little or no criticism. This has created a false sense of entitlement where parents idealize their children. Also, constantly telling a child they’re different or special can end up hurting them; Twenge and Campbell are wise to point out that wars are not fought based on similarities but on differences…

It’s this false sense of entitlement that may set your child up for future failures. What happened to praising a child for hard work? For truly being outstanding? Now everyone on a little league team seems to get a trophy. Are we guilty of lowering standards to accommodate mediocrity?

Another chilling characteristic of entitlement is the shift from self-exploration to self-expression. We no longer encourage children to fearlessly plumb their interior depths, their inner landscapes. Instead, according to Twenge and Campbell, children are now provided with the tools that “make it possible to open the gap between fantasy and reality,” where presenting the most flattering, superficial aspects of oneself is expected.

Overindulgence, under performance, the lowering of standards and encouraging children only to express themselves on a superficial level all play into the formation of a narcissist. Here are some other characteristics of pathological narcissism:

  • Requires constant attention and admiration
  • Possesses a sense of entitlement
  • Manipulates and exploits others to get what they want
  • Lack of empathy
  • Envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • Arrogant and haughty behavior or attitude
  • Fantasizes about unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love

It’s up to us as parents to say “no” to our children and mean it and to not give our children too much power over their lives or ours. We must strive to consider the messages we send to our kids about winning and competition and think twice before we purchase things for kids that say “I’m the boss.” Remember, everything that exists in our culture, exists because we allow it to. What do we really want?

Photo credit: sewitsforyou

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