Telling kids they're special may foster narcissism: study

Telling kids they're special may foster narcissism: study

Parents, take note! Telling your children they are special could turn them into narcissists, according to a new study.

In the study aimed at finding the origins of narcissism, researchers surveyed parents and their children four times over one-and-a-half years to see if they could identify which factors led children to have inflated views of themselves.

Results showed that parents who "overvalued" their children when the study began ended up with children who scored higher on tests of narcissism later on. Overvalued children were described by their parents in surveys as "more special than other children" and as kids who "deserve something extra in life," for example.

"Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others. That may not be good for them or for society," said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

"Rather than raising self-esteem, overvaluing practices may inadvertently raise levels of narcissism," said lead author Eddie Brummelman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

While the dangers of narcissism are well known, its origins are not, according to Bushman. This is the first prospective study to see how narcissism develops over time.
The study involved 565 children in the Netherlands who were 7 to 11 years old when the study began, and their parents.

Children were measured for levels of both narcissism and self-esteem. While many people believe narcissism is just self-esteem on steroids, that is not true, according to the researchers.

In this study, children with high self-esteem, rather than seeing themselves as more special than others, agreed with statements that suggested they were happy with themselves as a person and liked the kind of person they were.

"People with high self-esteem think they're as good as others, whereas narcissists think they're better than others," Bushman said.

Self-esteem and narcissism also develop in different ways, the study found. While parental overvaluation was associated with higher levels of child narcissism over time, it was not associated with more self-esteem.

In contrast, parents who showed more emotional warmth did have children with higher self-esteem over time. Parental warmth was not associated with narcissism.
The study appears in the journal PNAS.

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