Monday, April 26, 2010

Are You Raising a Narcissist?

Last week I talked about the online quiz you could take to determine how narcissistic you are and I mentioned that after I took the quiz my husband took it and when the kids saw us hovering over the computer they wanted to take the test too.

Well it proved to be a great conversation starter and became the germ of a teaching moment. First the kids wanted to know what narcissism was, and then after they saw their scores (and I don't know how accurate a score for an eleven year-old can be) they had questions about what "entitlement" and "vanity" and other words meant. It opened up a great discussion on what it meant to be narcissistic and why that might be a bad thing and how hard it is not to be narcissistic during those young years when you're so sure everyone in the room is staring at you and criticizing.

I do agree with Twenge's research though, and people are becoming steadily more narcissistic, though I don't think the trend began suddenly in the 1990s. As our standard of living grows it's human nature to expect--no, demand--more comforts and if those comforts are taken away we feel a sense of loss even if we hadn't even known that particular comfort ever existed.

So today I'm mentioning a few ways where parents can help their kids avoid the narcissism trap (assuming, of course, that they themselves aren't already stuck). I could probably write posts on each of these but for now we'll be brief.

Stop Being a Personal Secretary
Every time I've gone to a Back-to-School Night I've had to laugh at the parents taking notes. What are they writing? All the responsibilities their children have for schoolwork because apparently the children haven't learned how to write things down for themselves. When parents take these kinds of responsibilities from their children it just reinforces how important the children's lives are over their parents' lives which equals--you guessed it--narcissism.

If your child has to be somewhere or do something set those expectations that it's their responsibility to see if you're available and to do all the reminding. It's their life isn't it? So shouldn't that be their responsibility?

Stop Being a Bank
I've written before about how I don't think children should have allowances so I won't go into that here, but I'll just say that if you act as the private financier not only are they not learning about how money really works but they just learn that anytime they have a need you will be there to provide it. Just like that.

Seems rather self-centered to me. Though wouldn't that be nice if we all had magic lamps that gave us all our wishes, no questions asked? Yea, that's a nice thought.

Stop Being Paparazzi
Going back to the parents at school . . . it's always a treat to walk into a school event like a play or assembly and not be able to see the stage through the tripods. The entire first row, and usually most of the second is set up with cameras aimed at the stage, ready to capture every sniffle and smirk. If that's not a lesson on how to produce a vain child I don't know what is.

While I'm all for taking pictures and mementos am I the only one who thinks the whole "capture the moment" thing has gotten WAY out of hand? Seems like it would be rather hard for a child to learn humility when every moment of their life they have a camera pointed at them and people cooing over how cute they are constantly. Take some pictures but let's not go overboard people. The child is, after all, still a mere mortal.

Show Them You Love Your Spouse More Than Them
The best thing you can do for your child is to show them you love your spouse. Not only does it teach them about proper, loving relationships but it's also entirely appropriate that they know that as much as you love them (the child) that you love your spouse more.

The parent-child bond is wonderful and amazing but it pales next to the marriage bond (or it should). No child should take precedence over a marriage and no child should think that they are more important to you than your spouse. Keep your Friday night activities with the kids to a minimum and instead go out with your husband (or wife) and show the kids how important you are to each other--it will be good for all of you.

Let Them Fight Their Own Battles
Life is a tough thing and no child learns much from having their mom or dad step in to deflect life's pain. Yes, they may not get along with the teacher that well (I've heard most educators are human beings, after all), they may have disputes and fights with other kids and while those things are hard to witness it's much better to let your children figure out how to deal with those things without you stepping in to absorb the impact.

Of course I'm not advising you encourage or allow abuse--of course not--but if you're always there to tell them how they're right and everyone else in the world is wrong they're guaranteed to grow up thinking that their opinion is the only one that matters. And it's not.

Let Them Fail
I've heard that there are a growing number of young adults who haven't learned how to fail. They've been cheered and coached and pushed through success after success so that when they finally get into the real world and something doesn't go their way they break down, unaware of how to actually handle failure.

Children need to experience failure--not constantly of course--but healthy competition is a good experience, and dealing with not being number one is a critical lesson to learn. Have you even noticed how many valedictorians each graduating class has nowadays? I think most are up to, like, 75 or 76 by now. Because heaven forbid anyone should actually perform at anything but perfection. Don't get me started on grade inflation. . . .

Avoid the "Renaissance Child" Syndrome
I've had conversations with friends who insist that their children need to learn how to play at least one musical instrument and participate in one sport at all times (whatever is seasonal). Some even go so far as to include a foreign language and time abroad in there but it can't be good for a child to be raised to think that they have a right to experience all that the fine arts and athletics has to offer.

No kid should be raised to be good at everything, sure let them find something they like that helps them succeed, but really now, does a well-balanced, non-narcissistic child need to speak three languages, be all-state in both football and wrestling, while also playing first violin in the junior youth symphony? Give them and give me a break--it'll go a long way to keeping them level-headed and not big-headed.

Keep Them Wanting
No human being should ever get to the point where they have all the material things their heart desires. Now I don't mean that we shouldn't find satisfaction with our surroundings--that is actually pretty important--what I mean is that we should never accumulate so much stuff that when your child asks you what you want for Christmas you have nothing to say. It's good to not have so much there isn't anything on earth that you wouldn't like and children--most definitely--should never get to that point.

Kids should always have things that they want that they can't ever have and if your children are complaining about what they don't have then you're probably doing a pretty good job as a parent.

Don't fulfill all their desires, don't buy them the latest gadget or the expensive jeans. Tell them it's okay that they don't have a computer or a television or whatever it is that puts them at the bottom of the social hierarchy in their little world and then let them learn how to deal with it. Or teach them how it's normal to not get everything you want because there are things you want but can't have too--that they're young and have to learn how to work for what they want and that no where in Life's Contract does it say that we all deserve to have our wants supplied.

Learning how to say "no" is the first step to keeping the narcissism away.

Sponsored by Polkadot Peacock for children's bedding.

42 comments:

notjustlaura said...

Thank you for such a sensible post!

Shannon said...

Standing and applauding!

Now try raising a non-narcissist overseas in a country where household help is the norm. I came around the corner one day in Jakarta and interrupted an argument between my son and a neighbor child about who's driver was the best. I rather rudely informed them that neither of them "owned" the drivers. Informed them I they wanted a driver they could pay their salaries. What no money? Get good grades, grow up and get a job!

Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

I tell my 11 year old that failure is your best friend. He teaches you more than anyone else.

susanbaugh said...

Great post, which should be required reading for all parents!

I learned that while trying to video and photograph my kids events, I was actually missing out on the event itself. I scaled way back, and now have those memories instead of a bunch of videos no one ever wants to watch.

Patricia L said...

Good post. Real quick-- I don't own a video camera and every time we go to a school function, I remember why. Actually, I knew a long time ago I didn't want a video camera because my aunt was so obsessed with hers she would make her husband take videos of the dinner table before the family sat down on Sunday nights. I can still hear her say, "Rich, get the camcorder and get a picture of this food..." ahhhhh. Too much.
Anyway, I agree with your points.

Trixie said...

EXCELLET post!!

What a family where the whole family doesn't cater to the children's every whim?! What a novel idea! : )

Headless Mom said...

I think that we would be great irl friends. This list is great! It's hard to watch your child go through 'trials' but how on earth are they going to grow and be able to live in the real world if they haven't had to handle some of the hard stuff as children?

Mrs. Ohtobe said...

Amen!

Jami said...

This was excellent! I'm even using some of it as my "Quote(s) of the Week" on my blog (andnat3.blogspot.com), giving you credit, of course. I hope that's ok.... please let me know if it's not. :) Thanks again for helping me realize I'm not doing too shabby as a parent. ;)

jacjewelry said...

Great post! When I was young, my parents wanted me to play the piano, while I was more interested in art classes (surprise-surprise). Luckily, art classes were free through an after-school program. When I asked for permission to quit music school so I could focus on art, they said: "If you want to continue taking art classes, you will continue playing the piano." That was a good compromise, and everyone was happy in the end. I found time to do both, and am now glad I stuck with the music lessons.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for this post I really enjoyed it. I always was afraid to wonder out loud about all those parents with cameras and tripods and video equipment at all those events. I am relieved that I am not the only one who gets a bit annoyed with them

Michele said...

I agree with most, but not all of what you said. I do insist on one musical instrument and one "sport" - not because I want to raise a renaissance child but because I don't want all of my children's activities to be sedentary. My oldest tends to likes "sitting down" activities so I insist on one active one such as dance, ice skating, or tennis. As for the muscial instrument, it is a great skill to pick up when one is young and one that can be built upon. I very much regret not taking the piano when I was younger, and don't want my children to regret it as well.

gretchen from lifenut said...

Excellent post!

We purposely left the video camera and regular camera at home when our two oldest boys had their latest school music program.

I regretted it for a few minutes when my boys were square-dancing. WITH GIRLS. But I think always having a camera to fall back on promotes lazy brain skills and doesn't exercise the memory-forming parts of the brain.

JanMary said...

I need to stick this to our fridge and let my kids read it!

Agree on so much of this - kids expect so much, and they need to know it is not their right to have it all!

Anonymous said...

A mom telling someone else how to parent?

jubilee said...

Honestly, I thought you'd be getting a lot of flack for saying that the marriage relationship is more important than the parent-child relationship. I am glad to see that wasn't the case.

Seems like many parents put their children ahead of their spouses, a practice I've never really understood.

Great post. We all need reminding of these things now and again.

Heart2Heart said...

Michelle,

I love all these tips. I wonder how I can email me anonymously to people that really need to hear them.

Another one would have to include parents that think it's the teachers job to raise their kids and teach them manners. NOT!

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

chelle said...

So so always want my spouse to be most important. I grew up in a family where the children were first and it torn the family apart in the end.

Chrissy Johnson said...

Well, I might have to respectfully disagree on the "Show Them You Love Your Spouse More Than Them" point. I do believe that children should not think they are the center of this known universe but I think showing children the variants of love or the different kinds of love is very important - but not necessarily that they are less loved than another member of the family. I am a bit of a hippy though and the communal mindset is more my default mode. Also - my spouse is a photographer, so he's the one that always has the camera at functions, and I'm glad for it. He takes photos of everyone though, not just our kid. But that's different, since it's his profession.

Scribbit said...

THank you for leaving your honest comments and being brave to disagree with me. I've had a lot of private emails from people who are upset by some of the post and it wasn't my intention to offend. Maybe it's worth a longer discussion.

Anonymous said...

Let me preface this by saying: I don't have children. There, now that I've gotten that out of the way I'll just say a few things based on my own experiences growing up.

Photos & Video: I hated them. Hated them with a passion. If I saw a camera anywhere near me I vanished like smoke in the wind. And now, honestly, I can't tell you how much I regret that. I have almost no photographic evidence of myself growing up. A birthday here, a Christmas there. Nothing in between, and it's sad. It really is. I feel like I screwed up what could have been an amazing "history" to show my own children (if I have any), grandchildren, or even nieces and nephews one day. Those are times and events that I can NEVER get back, they are gone forever. I look back and it seems a huge part of my life just no longer even exists. I have hazy memories of a particular day, but I can't look back at a picture of it and laugh about the crazy hair I had, or wonder why in the world I was wearing powder blue short-shorts and a Bart Simpson shirt. I wish with all my heart I had let my parents take as many photos and videos of me as they wanted. I'll regret forever that I didn't.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

I do respectfully agree with some others thats its not natural to expect someone to love a spouse more than a child. Not that we need to be measuring or comparing love, I suppose.

I do totally think most marriages could stand a lot more attention and lots of kids could do well with less.

Anonymous said...

I think most bloggers are pretty narcissistic. You think you have some pretty darn important things to share with the rest of the world-who are doing it all wrong.

Jenna Consolo said...

This was amazing! I agree with you wholeheartedly. One thing that always makes me fume is when society won't let anyone win. Everyone has to win, and that's nonsense. I hate that every player on every team in Little League gets a trophy. I hate that every Pinewood Derby car gets an award. I hate that every pumpkin in the ward Halloween pumpkin contest gets a ribbon. Just pick a winner! Or, it doesn't mean anything if everyone wins. You know? Can you tell this is a sore spot with me?

Very thoughtful post. You have the clearest thinking mind of anyone I know.

Anonymous said...

I knew "reading the comments" on this post would be half the fun!

page2 said...

I think narcissm is the reason we have so many law suits in our society. I was reading in the paper this morning of two different law suits our elementary school is facing. Heaven forbid that anyone go through life without complete justice and financial compensation for pain and suffering. Because we were promised by our parents that life was supposed to be fair and we deserve what we think we are entitled to.

Adam said...

Fantastic Post! Home Run!

You should be appointed Homeland Parenting Czar.

http://emergingcenter.wordpress.com

gwenelle said...

Wow. Such a well-thought, well-written post! And I have to admit, the comments are quite fascinating to read as well. I'm not really surprised you received some unhappy responses, and to those people I want to point out that posts like this aren't meant to offend or condemn but rather advise or enlighten. This post isn't written by some lofty lady who is perfect at practicing what she preaches, but by a sensible, real-life mom who cares enough to share her observations and experiences, hoping readers might learn from others' mistakes. PS: Sorry if I'm making assumptions, Scribbit, but I wanted you to know I enjoy your insights and applaud your honesty, and though I'm not a mom myself yet, I plan to keep a copy of this post somewhere for that someday when it will come in handy!

Scribbit said...

Thanks so much for that gwenelle--I appreciate!

bigguysmama said...

I was thinking on my way home about what kind of men I want my boys to be when they grow up. Do I want a slobby, lazy man that my daughter-in-law is disappointed in and complains about? OR do I want my boys to be a blessing to his wife and children when he has them?

I realized that not "making" them do stuff I'm not helping them develope that part of their character and thoughtfulness towards others. It's always about them.

Thanks so much for your post!

~Mimi

Daisy said...

I run into this all too often. Parents who question my intentions when I insist that my students fill out their own assignment notebooks; insist that I "expect too much" of kids when they are responsible for bringing their homework back to school... you know the drill. These little egotists will become tomorrow's narcissists.

Robin Sue said...

Amen to all of this. I also set boundaries with my children. If I have to take them to one of my doctor appointments I explain that this is about mummy right now and not them. If I have a friend over, they are not to interupt unless they are bleeding from their eyeballs- I do not play with their friends when they are over! If they really need me they can put their hand on my arm until I excuse them to speak. I have been with many a friends that let their children rule our conversation and interupt- it is such a drag!

lailani said...

Well said!!! I will have to pull up this quiz and introduce it at just the right time to open discussion. We are coming up on the end of the school year and my 8th grader has played. He was warned early in the year no summer school - one F and he repeats. Now 3 weeks left of school, and yes an F that he thinks he is going to bring up -or that the teachers will inflate the grade. I have asked them to give him the grade he has earned. . . we will see. But he DOES need to learn this lesson.

Scribbit said...

Oh you bring up a bad topic with the interrupting thing--my kids have a horrible time remembering not to interrupt. I've tried all sorts of things to get them to stop and they just can't keep it in their heads that when someone else is talking that they have to wait. If they do it now they are punished by having to go to their rooms to wait out our conversation but it hasn't stopped it from happening yet. I'm wondering if it'll just take time because it's something that drives me crazy.

I've wondered if it's partly a biproduct of our chatty family. We're always talking and usually rather loudly so it's easy to get into that line of behavior. Still . . it's so rude. If anyone has ideas let me know!

Sarah said...

I don't have kids yet, but this is the first post on parenting that I feel like captures how I want to do it, someday. I thought I just 'didn't know what it was like' but this gives me courage that what I see and what makes sense to me aren't crazy or 'non-nurturing.'

larry said...

Bravo--well put. I find that as depressing as the state of modern parenting can be (I used to see only the things I did right as a parent, but now all I can see are the "helicopter parent" traits I often have), I do think people are beginning to wise up and let their kids be kids. Excellent post.

In the interest of a shameless plug, I've started a blog myself as an antidote to the Renaissance Child parents out there. It's called There Is Nothing For You Here, and it's focused on all that's terrible about parenting. I hope you'll check it out. Thanks:
thereisnothingforyouhere.wordpress.com.

MarytheKay said...

Yes, yes, yes! I agree wholheartedly!! There are a LOT of little narcissistic children being raised around here, and it's not pretty. I'm not always perfect at this, but I do TRY to raise normal kids who don't have it all, don't get to do it all, and who don't have it all recorded in scrapbooks and on dvds. :-)

Good thoughts. Thank you!!

Mary@notbefore7 said...

Good stuff here - and the allowance post :)

I needed the "renissance child" reminder. I feel like I am surrounded by a county of folks who all feel the need to "find their three year olds passion"...??oh my...

TJ said...

it is always interesting when i see parents that do many of the things you are describing.

my husband comes from an enabling/slightly co-dependent mother and an overindulgent, narcissistic, father. my MIL is just now learning to allow her children to suffer the consequences and to not bail them out. if she would have learned this a long time ago, i am sure her children would have had a much better chance at succeeding in life. my husband also had to learn when he was an adult, and luckily, we have done alright. it took some hard times for him to get it though.

while my husband is deployed, we talk on skype. and this morning, my daughter kept asking if we were done so that she could watch a show. and boy was she mad that we kept telling her no, that we still wanted to talk to each other and she would just have to wait.

now, how about some of these reality shows?? how narcissistic are those people??? i wish they would eliminate the "entertainment" section of all news. who cares what those people do. how does it affect me??? not at all. all of them are nuts anyway.

Chele said...

Michelle, how in the world did I miss this post? I so agree with every single thing you said! My children are much more behaved and well mannered then the next person who gives and does everything for their child. My kids learn from their mistakes! As a parent, you need to remember your not God... you will never have complete control over the protection of your kids. That's in God's hands. Not ours. We are to teach them not shield them from the world! Okay I'm done, for now! lol

Kayris said...

I grew up 600 miles from my closest family. So my father did take pictures and video of concerts, recitals, etc, for the extended family. And now that I have children of my own, and we have family members that we almost never see because they are so far away, I take video and photos to email or post on Facebook or my blog. Before she died, my grandmother LOVED my blog, because it made her feel like she was still able to be a part of my kids lives, even though she was 10 hours away.

And as someone who works closely with clients who often spend a whole appointment texting away on their cell phones when they really should be listening to me, I can't get upset at parents taking notes at Back To School night. At least they showed up! I think it's a stretch to say that just because a parent is taking notes means they don't make their child take responsibility. They could be writing down anything, like what the school's absence policy is, or how to get ahold of the teacher if there is a problem.

kelly gibson said...

i was going to write a rant but decided against it... i think you have some valid points, but going to extremes usually doesn't lead anywhere good. let's not praise ourselves too quickly for our humility and good sense.