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4 Core Findings About Adolescent Narcissism

Adolescents are not all narcissistic.

Key points

  • Most teens do not necessarily exhibit extreme levels of narcissism.
  • Adolescents can be perceived as narcissistic when asserting their individualism.
  • Some adolescents with narcissistic traits may be viewed as competitive and good leaders.

Most of my research has been in the area of adolescent narcissism, as well as the connection between narcissism and social media activity. The topic of adolescent narcissism drew my interest due to several paradoxes that have been discussed in the past about youth self-perception and self-esteem, as well as the inclusion of narcissism in the psychopathy construct—an area I had previously researched. Additionally, I find the unique aspects of adolescent development intriguing, as they suggest that narcissism may be a normal part of being an adolescent and can even be adaptive in some ways.

After conducting research in this area and reviewing the work of colleagues with similar interests, we have arrived at several core findings:

  • Adolescent narcissism tends to fall along a normal distribution, meaning that most teens do not necessarily exhibit extreme levels of narcissism, and narcissism tends to decline somewhat as we get older.
  • Narcissism during adolescence is linked to aggression, delinquent behavior, and self-reported anxiety and depression, depending on the specific characteristics of narcissism.
  • Adolescents with narcissistic traits may be perceived negatively by their peers as manipulative, difficult to get along with, and likely to engage in future delinquency. However, they may also be viewed as competitive and good leaders.
  • Narcissism is not necessarily linked to the frequency or type of social media posts. However, certain social media posts, such as selfies, may be associated with a perception of narcissism among unfamiliar viewers.

As we continue to conduct research, we expect to gain more clarity and nuance on these issues. By exploring the topic of adolescent narcissism within the context of different generations, it becomes crucial to consider the impact of developmental forces during adolescence as well as individual variations in personality. Moreover, while we acknowledge the correlation between narcissism and maladjustment, along with negative peer perceptions, it is imperative to unravel the underlying reasons and the specific conditions that contribute to such associations. Furthermore, when examining the relationship between narcissism and social media posts, it remains essential to investigate whether narcissistic individuals are naturally inclined to share specific content on social platforms or if the prevalence of social media has somehow fostered an increase in narcissistic tendencies.

The first step is coming to a common, theoretically grounded, and scientifically supported definition of narcissism. Specifically, some researchers focus on grandiose aspects of narcissism (e.g., sense of entitlement, boastfulness), others include the concept of vulnerable narcissism (e.g., self-esteem that is highly impacted by social feedback, reluctance to share one’s weaknesses), and still others rely on the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder.

Although many people may have a stereotypical image of a narcissistic person as arrogant and vain, research from the past few decades has painted a more complex picture. Across definitions, narcissistic individuals are those who seek to appear superior to others, but it is unclear whether they truly believe themselves to be superior. For adolescents, the situation is particularly complicated, as they are still developing their sense of self and personality, and asserting their individualism—a critical task in individualistic societies—can be perceived as narcissistic.

I plan to delve deeper into the topics of self-perception and personality factors related to youth behavioral problems, as well as how social media impact and reflect self-perception. While we do not have all the answers yet, I believe that these issues deserve discussion, and I look forward to engaging with readers on this platform.

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