We are now more obsessed with our children than ever. We live in an age that not only accepts narcissism but glorifies the condition.
We celebrate and hero worship the celebrity culture that screams “look at Me, Me, Me!” When did we adopt this bizarre belief system about our self-worth and that of our kids? Integrity, goodness and moral fibre have been replaced by being thin, rich, a champion, and highly visible.
With our extreme materialism and overconfidence about our own children’s abilities are we as parents responsible for the creation of this ‘me’ monster? The kid feels entitled to whatever he desires simply by virtue of being ‘himself’; an extra-special self at that!
Some will argue that this generational spike in narcissism is due to social networking, particularly Facebook. Shawn Bergman, professor of psychology at Appalachian State University in North Carolina explains that “Our research suggests that social networking and Facebook usage is not an indicator of narcissism, but rather a product of the times.”
Bergman acknowledges that unraveling the cause of this current narcissism is complicated, but he has a hunch that it has more to do with parents than online networking. “Parents have overprotected their children more over the generations and have taught them, intentionally or not, to expect special treatment just for being them,” Bergman said. “This, in combination with the ‘self-esteem’ movement, has likely resulted in increased narcissistic tendencies in our kids”.
Certainly, the celebrity subculture and the internet generation are significant factors, but much research data has substantiated Bergman’s suggestion that obsessive parenting is possibly the biggest contributing cause. A significant amount of this research has been performed and reviewed by Dr Jean Twenge. She says that self-esteem itself does not breed success. Mastering their world and overcoming challenges creates the sense of ‘ I can do’ in youngsters.
Parents repeatedly informing kids how good they are instills very little value, and in fact may set up a false self. Children thrive on love and need to feel supported through life’s challenges, but telling them they are the best in the world is not true and has very little value in building their character.
Although building self-esteem and confidence is important, we have gone overboard. We are not doing them any favours by dolling out undeserved praise.
The research demonstrates that extreme over-confidence often leads to disaster, both on a personal level and for society as a whole. Instead of teaching our children and teens to figure things out, take criticism if necessary, accept consequences for their actions, and feel any real pain, we often rush in to rescue, solve, and eliminate their struggles.
On top of that, they are growing up surrounded by a culture that places heavy emphasis on being exceptional. Everyone wants to be exceptional. What better way to be extraordinary than to emulate the celebrity culture’s self-obsession in pursuit of the perfect body, perfect scores, perfect life. This together with the sense of self entitlement and specialness has also resulted in our deep affection for brand names. We want every part of our lives labeled and out there for all to see. We have taken consumerism to an obscene level.
There is considerable value in our children learning to wait patiently, delay gratification, and not always getting what they want. The sooner they learn that you often don’t get what you want, you have to work hard to acquire and achieve it, the better. They also learn immense gratitude when they get something that has required effort or waiting or yearning. We do our children a major disservice by showering them with material things in response to their ‘entitled’ requests or demands.
This outrageous epidemic is cultured in the petri dish of infancy by parents who are nourishing their children with a cocktail of obscene materialism together with the message that you are more special than anybody else. I certainly believe in encouraging our teens to aim for self-mastery and a level of success but far more important for them is building a strong character and value system peppered with a small dose of humility. With our brazen, unashamed obsession with our children and their specialness, I think we have seriously lost the plot.