‘Overvaluing’ your child to prevent narcissism? Now that’s an interesting topic.
If you want to avoid having narcissistic children, do not “overvalue” them. That is the take-home message of a new study from researchers at The Ohio State University in Columbus and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This article appeared on Medical News Today:
The researchers undertook the study in an effort to understand the origins of narcissism. They claim that theirs is the first prospective study to investigate how narcissism develops over time.
The team recruited 565 children in the Netherlands and their parents. The children were aged between 7 and 11 when the study began. Participants completed standardized psychological research surveys four times over the course of the study, with a 6-month interval between each survey.
In the surveys, the parents were asked to rate on a scale how much they agreed with statements such as “My child is a great example for other children to follow.”
The children and parents were both asked how much emotional warmth the parents showed, by rating the extent to which they agreed with statements such as “I let my child know I love him/her” or “My father/mother lets me know he/she loves me.”
The researchers were interested in distinguishing narcissism from self-esteem among the participants, and so the children were measured for both qualities.
“People with high self-esteem think they’re as good as others, whereas narcissists think they’re better than others,” says Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State.
In the study, the children with high self-esteem agreed with statements suggesting they were happy with themselves and liked the kind of person they were, without reporting themselves as being more special than others.
Prof. Bushman and colleagues found that children who were described by their parents in the surveys as “more special than other children” and who “deserve something extra in life” scored higher on tests of narcissism at follow-up.
“Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others. That may not be good for them or for society,” says Prof. Bushman.
Parents overvalue in order to boost children’s self-esteem
Lead author Eddie Brummelman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam, suggests that parents may overvalue their children in an attempt to boost their self-esteem, but “rather than raising self-esteem, overvaluing practices may inadvertently raise levels of narcissism.”
However, parental overvaluation was not associated in the study with increased levels of self-esteem. There was a correlation instead between parents who showed more emotional warmth and children having higher self-esteem over time. The study found no association between parental warmth and narcissism.
“Overvaluation predicted narcissism, not self-esteem, whereas warmth predicted self-esteem, not narcissism,” Prof. Bushman summarizes.
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