Thursday, May 28, 2009

It's all about me...

I was really intrigued when I saw psychologist Jean Twenge interviewed on one of the morning programs this past week. I felt like she had been in my kitchen when I was talking to one of my friends. I mean, what she said has been what I have been saying for years, but she has the research and the Dr. before her name to back it up. She said that Narcissism is on the upswing. I don't think I have ever used the word narcissism--it is not really in my speaking vocabulary--but the idea rings true to my way of thinking.

In the book she co-authored with W. Keith Campbell, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, they show that young people [and not so young people] today have a very positive and self inflated sense of self. She contends this is illustrated by the preoccupation with MySpace, Facebook and YouTube. In other words,

"It's all about me."

Narcissism is defined as [from various sources]:
  1. Excessive love or admiration of oneself. See synonyms at conceit.
  2. A psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem.
  3. Concerned ONLY with oneself
  4. A personality disorder in which a person is so self-absorbed that the needs and feelings of others do not matter.
This isn't like a positive self image, which is healthy, it is excessive self-preoccupation and I think what really characterizes it is that the person is not really that interested in other people or what they think or do--they are preoccupied with themselves.

So, what's a parent to do? Some of the things Twenge mentioned are things I have said again and again. When a child loses a game, instead of saying "You always be a winner to me," we should say, "Let's work on that swing and maybe we will get them next time."

Instead of every kid on the losing ball team or swim team, etc. getting a trophy at the end of the season, just have a pep talk about improving, doing our best, etc. Talk about the fun you had, the improvements the team has made, give everyone a pat on the back and go home.

The "fake" trophy makes a child think he [or the team] is great when really he [or the team] needs to do better. The trophys and fake "always a winner" talk really set a kid up for failure.

I mean, they are not always going to be winners. They may as well learn it early--you are not going to win all the time, you are not going to be the best all the time, you are not the prettiest, smartest...and so forth. We can compliment kids on a job well done, but constant affirmation does not do anyone any good and it cheapens real affirmation.

I think Dr. Seuss says it best in The Places You'll Go.

You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.
You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you'll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don't.
Because sometimes, you won't
I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly it's, true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you...

And I think this is the message we need our kids to hear. That bang-ups and hang-ups happen.

That the destination is not as important as the journey. We need to stop letting our kids be the little masters of the house, stop letting them have so much control and teach them to be in service to their families and their communities. Chores are a good place to start--as well as showing kindness to others, especially younger family members.

If we can get our kids to think of others and to see that they are an important part of their family and community--instead of seeing themselves as someone who everyone's lives revolve around, the person that the parents put at the center of their universe, we will go a long way to having non-narcissistic kids-kids who have a positive self image, but are not selfish and uncaring of others.

Take care,

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