• Conversations with Dr. Donna

    Parenting a Generation of “Selfies”

    Dr. Donna Housman       

    From princesses and queen-bees to golden boys and superstars, it seems like most kids these days are into one thing–themselves…a problem that researchers are blaming on parents. This new study out of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands suggests that parents who overvalue their children could likely be producing narcissistic individuals.

    To dissect narcissism, let’s think of the adjective ‘good’ and its comparative ‘better.’ Most parents are likely to say they have well-behaved, “good” kids. But when they start claiming their children are more special and more deserving, the children start manifesting that praise, convincing themselves that they are better than others. After all, children believe anything and everything you say, so no matter what they do, they will constantly feel like they have to live up to the expectations of others for attention and commendation.

    Overvaluation can be attributed to a common parenting fear: “I’m not giving my child enough…If I tell him the truth, he won’t love me.” But inflating your child’s ego with high-quality praise all the time for the most mediocre accomplishments can get unrealistic, unnecessary, and problematic. In addition to the good things, your child can do wrong, and he will do wrong. Parents cannot be fearful of presenting that reality to their children. As parents, it is important to recognize what is not only favorable but faulty in our children and promote the appropriate learning experiences that help us mirror the most honest observations.

    From the beginning, we serve the most primary role in helping our children learn. Children learn through modeling and develop in the context of a relationship. This parental support must reflect an accurate reality—not something that’s out of reach and grandiose. We want to lend to children’s early socialization experiences, not put them on a pedestal and make them think they deserve everything because they are who they are. Let us build their self-esteem and give them more of what they actually need–affection, appreciation, warmth, and a moderate dose of reality.

    I caution parents to rear your children with a sensitive hand, a receptive heart, and an accurate reflection. Holding up an honest mirror doesn’t mean you don’t love your child. If anything, you are doing what’s best for his future and endorsing his healthy sense of self.

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