You're Turning Your Kids Into Narcissists

New research shows parents who overvalue their kids turn them into narcissists

Posted Mar 10, 2015

New research from a team in the Netherlands shows that when kids become narcissistic, entitled, and superior, you can often blame the parents. 

The study of 565  seven- to twelve-year olds revealed that when parents overvalue their kids, and tell them that they are exceptional and deserve special treatment, the kids believe it, too. This narcissism in the children grew over time; the researchers followed the kids over 18 months.

"Loving your child is healthy and good, but thinking your child is better than other children can lead to narcissism, and there is nothing healthy about narcissism," says Dr. Brad Bushman, and author of the study.

Their methods were interesting. They had the children fill out a personality inventory to measure their own narcissistic feelings, but they also surveyed the parents. Parents were  asked how much their children knew about historical events and figures, and the researchers included some fake events and names in the lists. Parents who overvalued their children's accomplishments were more likely to say their kids knew a lot about the fake events. 

This research does not say that children shouldn't have confidence. High self-esteem is quite different from narcissism. "Self-esteem basically means you're a person of worth equal with other people. Narcissism means you think you're better than other people," says Bushman.

The implications for kids can be significant. Narcissists are less empathetic, which can lead to difficulties in relationships. The researchers are also studying the links between narcissism and aggression and violence. 

This doesn't mean parents shouldn't love or encourage their kids, either. Parental warmth - showing love and telling kids they are loved - does not lead to narcissism. So tell your kids you love them, encourage them to work hard, but don't focus on telling them that they are better than others or that they deserve special treatment. It will serve everyone better in the long run.