Every time my daughter leaves the house for school, I always whisper to her, “You’re special and beautiful.” However, someone once told me that I should not tell her that because it could put ideas in her mind that she is entitled or above everyone else. My daily words of affirmation to my daughter in short can turn her into a narcissist. In the culture that my daughter lives in, more people will be telling my daughter she’s unattractive and not-good-enough.
The media’s obsession with beauty and perfection sends her the message that to be accepted, she has to keep up with celebrities and trends she sees on TV and the internet. That’s why I truly believe that as dads, I need to tell my daughter that she is beautiful and one-of-a-kind. Not better than anyone else, but not less than any other, either. Just beautiful the way God made her to be. I honestly don’t think that complimenting my daughter’s appearance builds an unhealthy and grandiose sense of self-importance.
Still, how not to raise a narcissistic child is something I’ll do my best to understand and practice.
In a recent article, psychologist and Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow claims today’s culture is raising the new generation of narcissist. He said, according to a study by the American Freshman Survey, many young people are going to college convinced that they are gifted and talented, even though they are getting lower grades and studying less.
Ablow said that social media and video games are feeding that kind of behavior because these technologies tend to be centered to the users and turns them into attention-seeking faux celebrities in their own little worlds.
Another reason we’re raising narcissists is the cultural importance on building up self-esteem. Raising children’s self-esteem has become the primary goal in schools and parents at home. We’ve downplayed grades and praise children for minimal effort. The idea that everyone gets a trophy just for participating and no one gets critiqued on actual performance has done more harm than good by taking away our children’s true sense of pride for genuine achievements.
Lastly, and what I think is the main reason for the rise of a generation of narcissists is because this generation are raised by narcissistic parents. Parents who are pre-occupied with ambition of success and oblivious to the needs of their neighbors.
How can we help young people grow up less self-absorbed and be truly happy, productive individuals?
We need to encourage in our kid’s empathy, hard work, and more non-virtual, personal interactions. Aside from home, a good venue to provide young people a clear model of humility and strong character is the church. The church can provide biblical teaching and motivation on how children can develop the understanding and faith that are required to live lives that are relevant and noteworthy.
We also must be vigilant against nurturing a culture of narcissism in our homes. Don’t be reluctant to set boundaries in your children’s media consumption. Limit your kid’s use of the internet and television. Expose them to family-friendly entertainment and role models that exemplifies self-sacrifice, humility and good moral character. Encourage personal interactions and face-to-face family activities such as outdoor games and volunteer opportunities in your local community.
Dr. Ablow said, “We had better get a plan together to combat this greatest epidemic as it takes shape. Because it will dwarf the toll of any epidemic we have ever known. And it will be the hardest to defeat. Because, by the time we see the scope and destructiveness of this enemy clearly, we will also realize, as the saying goes, that it is us.”
Parents primarily need to model humility and empathy to help young people grow up less self-absorbed. Learning to parent with humility and empathy is important and it is a skill not automatic to most parents. It involves caring unconditionally for others regardless of the circumstances we see. It starts with a self-evaluation of what we consider truth and important in life. It requires a genuine sort of self-confidence, not found in the person in the mirror but found only in understanding who God made us to be.
(Originally published in The Good Men Project)