There is a common belief that heavily praising children will result in the development of narcissism. However, the research to support this theory is less than solid. One study claiming to have found that “narcissism in children is cultivated by parental overvaluation… [and] parents [who] believe their child to be more special and more entitled than others,” only found a weak correlation between overvaluation and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The reality is that, in trying to avoid narcissism, parents might be doing irreparable damage to their child’s self-esteem.
Narcissistic personality disorder derives its name from Greek mythology. According to mythology, Narcissus was a young man who loved himself so much that he drowned while trying to get a closer look at his own reflection in the water.
Signs and symptoms
The typical signs of NPD include an expectation of special treatment, an overemphasis and/or exaggeration of personal achievements, the exploitation of others, the need for constant praise, a lack of empathy for and/or consideration of others and the belief that all others are envious of this individual. Those suffering from NPD are also mentally incapable of giving or fully receiving unconditional love.
Narcissistic teenagers do not necessarily have NPD
Teenagers, by nature, exhibit some of these characteristics in a less extreme manner. These behaviors are not necessarily indicative of the development of NPD. Certain amounts of selfishness and self-importance are normal at that age. It is believed that a mere 6.2 percent of the general population actually struggles with NPD. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), up to 75 percent of those struggling are male. However, if a teenager is exhibiting signs of narcissism, criminal thoughts and actions can be a cause for concern.
One contributing factor to narcissism today is social media and the Internet. It has become the norm to document daily activities as mundane as eating a piece of toast before school, making these ordinary tasks seem extraordinary with the right Instagram filter. With the prevalence of social media and the Internet, teenagers are now more focused than ever on image and appearance. Not only this, but every aspect of day-to-day life, is subject to judgment and approval from friends and the feelings of validation when a teenager’s post gets a certain amount of attention could potentially contribute to the development of NPD or narcissistic behaviors.
According to Dr. Craig Malkin, moderate amounts of narcissism enable teenagers to have better interpersonal relationships and more easily navigate the emotional highs and lows that come with the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Moderate levels of narcissism are also linked to creativity and leadership. It is more harmful to restrict praise and love given to children, as this makes them feel inadequate and unable to accept compliments or feel proud of their accomplishments.
As Malkin notes further, “It isn’t telling our kids they’re special that sets them on the wrong path. It’s telling them they’re special only when they do great things.” In this sense, it is essential to let children know they are special and valued whether or not they get an A in math class. Children need to feel confident in the fact that they are loved no matter what they do. The result will likely be a well-adjusted child, not a narcissist.
Causes and treatment
The causes of NPD are complex and are believed to be a combination of genetic, social and psychological factors. One theory is that many pathological narcissists are actually individuals who struggle with low self-esteem and have developed fantasies of grandiosity as a coping skill. Those who struggle with NPD typically present a very fragile psyche, so treatment is difficult. Goals of treatment include adjusting an individual’s concept of other people’s values in relation to his or her own and the development of empathy. As an individual begins to see the world differently, anxiety and/or depression commonly surface, for which medication can be prescribed. If these alternative disorders are not present throughout treatment, no medication is typically given to those with NPD.
If you believe your child might be in the developmental stages of NPD, it is time to intervene. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a treatment facility that specializes in the helping adolescents and teenagers struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer