Rampant plastic surgery, materialism, helicopter parents, and the cult of celebrity are all contributing factors in the "epidemic" of narcissism among young people, and especially among university-age women, according to a new book, "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement."
Narcissism, defined as excessive self-love, is on the rise, according to authors and renowned psychiatrists Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. Based on several scientific studies, their book outlines how extreme over-confidence often leads to disaster -- both on a personal level and for society as a whole.
So just what makes a narcissist? Easy credit, celebrity worship and treating your kids like royalty. So basically, everything about modern western culture. Julie Marsh, author of the blog The Mommy Slant, agrees. Marsh, a mum of three, asserts that parents are so quick to praise their children -- and so reluctant to dole out the discipline -- that we're creating yet another generation of spoiled brats.
"I think it's ultimately detrimental to tell a kid that they're the smartest or the prettiest or the fastest," Marsh says. "Having integrated that sort of superlative into their identity, what happens when they meet someone smarter or prettier or faster? In an attempt to bolster their self-esteem, we've actually set them up to have their sense of self shaken, leading them to avoid challenges."Dr. Susan Giurleo is a child and family psychologist in North Andover in the USA, and she agrees wholeheartedly that parenting plays a strong role when it comes to narcissism.
"Parents tend to see their children as fragile and unable to manage for themselves," says Giurleo. "Instead of teaching children and teens to figure things out, accept consequences for their actions, and feel any real pain, parents rush in to rescue, solve and eliminate all struggle for their kids."
In her practice, she adds, she sees many parents who fail to set high, clear expectations for their children, and don't follow through when kids misbehave. "So, when a child grows up with no rules or expectations, no consequences for poor behavior, and are always rescued from their poor decisions, they accurately determine that they are special and in control," she says.
Oh, man, did that ever make me cringe. I hate to see my kids suffer, and of course I think they are the most special little boy and girl who ever walked the earth. I'm a lot better than I used to be, but my husband is the heavy hand when it comes to setting expectations and following through on consequences. Me? I'm much more likely to issue hugs and kisses than discipline.
Reading this made me realise I'm not doing them any favour, and on top of that, they are growing up surrounded by a culture that places heavy emphasis on being exceptional. But into every life a little failure falls, and I also want them to know that stumbling here and there doesn't make you weak or stupid -- it just makes you human.
Do you put your kids on a pedestal, and does it show in their behaviour?