Participation trophies, praising children for no apparent reason, and encouraging every child to feel special are relatively new developments in parenting culture, and most of us have heard members of older generations decry this parenting style. It turns out that debates about how much adoration children should receive constitute more than a generational divide, though. Children whose parents “overvalue” them are more likely to develop narcissism, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Perils of Overvaluing Children
The study—which co-author Brad Bushman says encouraged him to change his own parenting style—recruited 565 Dutch children and their parents. Child participants ranged in age from 7 to 11. Each parent completed a psychological survey every six months over the two-year duration of the study. The surveys asked parents to indicate how strongly they agreed with statements comparing their children to others. For example, a parent might be asked whether his or her child is a good example for others.
Researchers also explored how warmly parents behaved toward their children. Parents answered surveys asking them to indicate whether they took specific steps to make their children feel loved. Children completed similar surveys, indicating whether they agreed or disagreed with statements about their parents’ expressions of warmth and love.
Researchers then evaluated children’s self-esteem and narcissistic tendencies. Children with high self-esteem believed they were as good and deserving as others. Children with narcissistic tendencies, on the other hand, felt they were better and more special than others. Parents who ranked their children as “more special than other children” or who believed their children deserved more out of life than others had children who scored higher on narcissism measures. Children whose parents were warm and loving were more likely to have high self-esteem, but not narcissistic tendencies.
Researchers believe that parents may tell their children how special they are in an attempt to boost their self-esteem. But children believe what their parents tell them. When parents emphasize that a child is better or more deserving, the child may grow to believe it.
How Much Adoration of Children Is Too Much?
Avoiding excessive adoration doesn’t mean you have to give up praising your child or working to nurture his or her self-esteem. Instead, the study’s authors believe the key is to praise children without making them feel superior to others. This sense of superiority, they say, is what seems to lead to narcissism.
A simple change in parenting style can work wonders. Instead of telling your child he’s the best, smartest, or best-looking, try praising him for his actions and efforts. Compliment your child for working hard to help a friend, for committing extra time to her science project, or for diligently practicing piano. Previous research suggests that praising children for their efforts rather than their results or innate traits encourages them to work harder and be more persistent.
- Avoid ‘overvaluing’ your child to prevent narcissism. (2015, March 11). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290687.php
- Collins, N. (2013, February 12). Praise children’s effort, not their intelligence. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9862693/Praise-childrens-effort-not-their-intelligence.html
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