Seeing yourselfThere seem to be people everywhere taking ‘selfies’.  These ‘selfie’ photos are made possible because of new digital technologies; are proliferated through social media; are characteristic of the “look at me!” generation. This trend coincides with an increase in entitlement and the rise of narcissism.  Just because someone takes a ‘selfie’ doesn’t mean that the person is narcissistic, but recent research conducted by Eddie Brummelman and Brad Bushman from the University of Amsterdam (in addition to colleagues from Southampton, Utrecht and Ohio State Universities) indicates early socialization experiences and parenting patterns are related to the current rise of narcissism.

According to the researchers, narcissists feel superior to others and have a sense of entitlement. Genetic predisposition can be a factor; however parenting patterns were found to be critical in the development of narcissism. The researchers compared parents’ estimates of their children’s abilities against data from intelligence tests and they asked parents if their child had read certain books or knew about a range of topics (some of which were non-existent) to see if parents inflated their child’s abilities. This study demonstrates that children develop narcissism in family environments where parents believe their child is more special and more entitled than others; when children internalise their parents’ inflated views of them and their abilities.

Confidence levelConstant, excessive praise for very minor accomplishments then feeds the child’s sense of entitlement. Bushman recommends parents provide normal positive evaluation without inflation. Praise should be focussed upon specific behaviour (e.g. effort) and be provided with care. “Praise, like penicillin, must not be administered haphazardly” says Bushman. Carol Dweck’s mindset research at Stanford University supports the importance of providing praise that is related to specific, effortful behaviour and not excessive or person-centred praise. This means acknowledging the thought, skill, effort and care a student has put into an activity, e.g. “I can see you have really thought about these complex issues and you have carefully explained in this paragraph the reasoning behind your viewpoint.” Providing constant, excessive, global, person-centred praise, (e.g. “Wow, that’s fantastic! You are amazing!”) fails to reinforce positive behaviour while building a sense of entitlement and contributing to the development of narcissism, especially if “… and you did it so quickly and easily!” is added.

Selfie stickIt is important to distinguish between parents’ inflated views of their child’s abilities from parents who recognise their child’s heightened abilities and have objective data to validate the child’s abilities.  Likewise, acknowledging and appreciating a child’s abilities while advocating for challenging work that requires the child to expend effort in the development of skills is quite different from overvaluing a child as inherently more special and more entitled than other children.  The researchers make another important distinction: “Narcissism refers to the feeling of being better than others and the feeling of being more entitled than others and creating admiration from others, but self-esteem is more a genuine feeling of being worthy.” This research shows that self-esteem is promoted by parental warmth and support; whereas narcissism is cultivated by parental overvaluation of the child.  The recent introduction of ‘selfie sticks’ provides improved perspective and a broader view. This might be a useful approach in parenting, as well.

© Michele Juratowitch