How Parents Create Narcissistic Children

How Parents Create Narcissistic Children

Just about everybody has one raging narcissist to deal with, sooner or later — on the job, in social situations or (God forbid) in the home. How did he get this way, we wonder? What was his childhood like?

For what appears to be the first time, researchers have taken a stab at that question by following and surveying 565 children ages 7 through 11 and their parents — 415 mothers and 290 fathers.

The results are quite clear: Parents who “overvalue” children during this developmental stage, telling them they are superior to others and entitled to special treatment, are more likely to produce narcissistic children — who can grow up to become narcissistic adults unless something is done about it.

“When children are seen by their parents as being more special and more entitled than other children, they may internalize the view that they are superior individuals, a view that is at the core of narcissism,” the researchers wrote in a study released online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “But when children are treated by their parents with affection and appreciation, they may internalize the view that they are valuable individuals, a view that is at the core of self-esteem.”

This seems to make sense intuitively, but as the authors — Brad Bushman of Ohio State University and Eddie Brummelman, a post-doctoral researcher at Holland’s University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University — point out, this was not the prevailing explanation all along. Psychoanalytic theory suggested that narcissists were the result of parents who showed them too little warmth.

So Bushman and Brummelman pitted social learning theory — the idea that you learn through modeled behavior — against the psychoanalytic argument and found that, indeed, children learn their narcissism from parents who teach them that they are more than special.

The authors also wanted to determine what differentiated narcissists — who tend to be more aggressive and even violent than other people, and are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and drug addiction — from people with strong self-esteem. As mentioned above, parents who show their kids warmth and appreciation without promoting the idea that they are superior tend to raise children with solid self-esteem.

Previous studies have looked at narcissistic adults, but in 2008, Brummelman said in an interview, reliable testing instruments became available for young children. By the age of 7 or 8, he said, children develop the ability to describe whether they are happy with themselves and are very likely to compare themselves with others. “It’s an age when they may be especially sensitive to parental influence,” he added.

The researchers did note that they couldn’t quite come out and show cause and effect. “Of course, parental overvaluation is not the sole origin of narcissism,” they wrote. They added: “Like other personality traits, narcissism is moderately heritable and partly rooted in early-emerging temperamental traits. Some children, due to their temperamental traits, might be more likely than others to become narcissistic when exposed to parental overvaluation.”

Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education, and the Making Caring Common Project have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. (The Washington Post)

Aside from having to deal with someone like this, why should any of us care? Well, narcissism has been on the rise among Western youth in recent decades. Bushman put his concerns nicely when my colleague Rachel Feltman interviewed him for another study last summer:

“I’ve been studying aggression for about 30 years,” he said, “and I’ve seen that the most harmful belief that a person can have is that they’re superior to others. ‘Men are better than women, my race is better than your race, my religion is superior to your religion.’ When people believe they’re better than other people, they act accordingly.”

He and Brummelman wrote in this paper: “Narcissistic individuals feel superior to others, fantasize about personal successes, and believe they deserve special treatment. When they feel humiliated, they often lash out aggressively or even violently.”

So can anything be done to halt this process? Brummelman said yes, both during the ages of 7 to 12, when the sentiment develops, and later. “Perhaps we can develop a way to help parents convey affection and appreciation for a child without necessarily putting a child on a pedestal, without telling the child he is better than others,” he said.

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How Parents Create Narcissistic Children

22 thoughts on “How Parents Create Narcissistic Children”

  1. Avatar of Jim

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with teaching your kid they’re more than special as long as you teach them to be humble as well .

  2. Avatar of Heidi

    The Golden Rule was thought in my home. Treat others the way you want to be treated. So I thought my kids and my grandkids. We were praised for doing good, we were hugged, we were told if we were not good. We were also told no one is better than you and you not better then anyone else. My grand daughter 7yrs old was made fun of when preforming a dance at school by three kids she knew. It upset her to tears. The next day she went up to them and said “You hurt my feelings. Just wanted you to know so you don’t do it any more, so no one will ever treat you that way.”

  3. Avatar of Tamara Bousquet

    I believe these along with other contributing factors like example: Mom and Dad got a divorce and child is age 7 is not only encouraged to treat one or both of parents like they were things to get things from.To treat the other parent as unworthy and then child runs away from one to the other when he /she doesn’t get there way.This sets the child on a road they have no choice but to follow with they rest of the people they encounter No One matters .Parents because thier own insecuties about other parent basically force the child to choose himself first always lack of compassion empathy etc.

  4. Avatar of Maryann

    I feel genetics plays a bigger part in an individual being a narcissist, and you can’t do much about a person’s genes. Just saying…

  5. Avatar of lisa

    It sounds more like children who are taught a false sense of superiority over others and are taught to devalue others are in danger of becoming narcissists, not those who are truly valued for themselves by their parents. I have to admit this article had me worried reading it, the wording would make good parents feel like they’ve done everything wrong by being loving parents.

  6. Avatar of Elisabeth Bale

    Absolute rubbish, children who are valued (from a genuine parent) grow up to have a secure inner self belief. Narcissism comes from a very different kind of childhood, and that is where the anger comes from.

    1. Avatar of Deb

      It’s a shame you did not read the article properly before condemning it as rubbish. Nowhere did it say children who are valued grow up to be narcissists. It does say that putting children on a pedastal and teaching them they are superior is a factor in the development of narcissism

  7. Avatar of Virginia Burdick

    We’ve all done the best we can with the tools, literally and figuratively, that we have had. I don’t think any parent starts out thinking–“Gee, I’d like to raise a self-centered raving maniac”. I’ve always believed in a multiple factor approach. In addition, each child is different.

    1. Avatar of Janine Stranger

      totally get what you are saying Virginia… but you are obviously level headed and thoughtful… as most parents try to be… however, I can honestly say I’ve seen a few who are overly indulging their child’s ego… for the sake of feeding their own… scary shit.

    2. Avatar of Virginia Burdick

      Well, I can say a few things about my daughter-in-law. She has my two teenage grandsons that came ready made and then she had her own—my grand daughter! She is much stricter with the boys and very pragmatic—-Her mother deserted her, and she was raised by grandma and dad—then she had to give her baby girl up for adoption. She has had a hard time with many feelings of guilt and heartache. Each person and each case is different, Iso I just try to be loving and understanding.

  8. Avatar of Jamie Robert Potlock

    Sure, blame the parents, but we have to live with these entitled rage-filled faux-celebrities. That’s punishment enough for loving them and paying attention to them as children.

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