March 18, 2009

Are Schools Breeding Narcissism?

Comedian Todd Barry:

The guitarist for Third Eye Blind was on MTV Cribs, showing off his house.  He picks up a guitar and says, "this is my favorite guitar.  With this guitar, the songs just write themselves."  Yeah, sure.  Blame the guitar.

"Warning over narcissistic pupils:"

The growing expectation placed on schools and parents to boost pupils' self-esteem is breeding a generation of narcissists, an expert has warned.

Dr Carol Craig said children were being over-praised and were developing an "all about me" mentality.
Dr Craig is chief executive of the "centre for confidence and well-being" in Scotland.  What?  What are you looking at?

She told head teachers the self-esteem agenda, imported from the United States, was a "a big fashionable idea" that had gone too far.

She said an obsession with boosting children's self-esteem was encouraging a narcissistic generation who focused on themselves and felt "entitled".
I wanted to investigate this further, so I went down to the local elementary school, I grabbed one of the Zach Effron looking bastards by the neck, and I shook him like a dog, I said, "listen you North Face wearing organ donor, why is self-esteem so important to you?  Why do you have to feel good about yourself all the time?  Huh?  Huh?"

Well, Zach ran off, bawling, and then I realized: he's not the one who cares about self-esteem.

Right?  The kids didn't sign up for the self-esteem classes because it was pass/fail and fit in 3rd period.  Adults made a collective decision that this was going to be the core educational philosophy from which everything else would be derived.  So?  What did adults think was wrong with the way they were raised that they thought self-esteem was so important to teach their kids?

I agree with: schools shouldn't be in the psychology business; emphasis on "feelings" paradoxically (read: not paradoxically) increases the likelihood of depression and anxiety; the more schools dealt with emotional well-being, the less parents would take responsibility, etc.

But she misses the cause.  She sees the teaching of self-esteem itself to be the source of the problem; but the real problem is the cultural mindset that thought up self-esteem training-- and a million other things.  Even if we stopped promoting self-esteem in schools, the kids are still going to have to watch TV created by these same adults; learn about other cultures from them; learn how to manage money from them; learn that the worth of the individual from them; learn whether killing is right or wrong, and when, from them.  Not directly from them, of course, which would actually be a dialogue worth trying out; but by osmosis, from living in the world that adults have created for themselves, that kids have no choice but to live in. 

In short, they're still going to have to go home to their parents.

Here's an example.  I'm down at the playground stalking pedophiles, and I observe that all of the kids are there with a parent, and most of them are with both of their parents.  The parents are actively playing, too, they're not just sitting on the benches socializing.

Wow, I think, there are actually more parents than kids on this playground.  My parents would never have played with me/us like that.  If they actually came (they never would have) they would have sat on the benches.  Socializing.

And then I observe that there are 15 or so adults, all crowded around on this playground; however, none of the parents are talking to each other, they are talking only to their kids.

But they are so physically close to each other that it is visibly weird that they are not talking to each other; they must each have made a conscious decision not to interact.  And then, it hits me: the reason these parents are playing with their kids and not on the benches is in order not to interact with the other parents.  They're using their kids as human shields.   They don't know how to have a personal but not intimate interaction with another adult, they can't figure the boundaries.  All they know is stranger, friend and sex.  All they know are roles.

Self-esteem training is besides the point: how are kids going to not become narcissists when their parents train them on purpose to avoid meaningful interactions with strangers?

It boggles the mind how adults complain about how "kids today" are soft, or narcissistic, or impolite.  What, is that due to sunspots?  An oncogene?  "Kids today" aren't any wussier than their parents are making them.

"Kids today are soft, when we were kids we didn't wear bike helmets..." But the kid isn't asking to wear the helmet, you're putting it on their head. 

She said an obsession with boosting children's self-esteem was encouraging a narcissistic generation who focused on themselves and felt "entitled".

She means the kids; yet the focus on children's self-esteem is the mechanism by which the parents protect themselves.  If my kid is happy, then I have a happy kid; I don't have to do anything.  It's the parents who feel entitled- to having a happy kid.

"Narcissists make terrible relationship partners, parents and employees. It's not a positive characteristic..." she said.

Nice call.  A generation too late, but nice call.


"North Face wearing organ d... (Below threshold)

March 18, 2009 7:47 PM | Posted by Fargo: | Reply

"North Face wearing organ donor" was so good I almost spat out my tea.

Thankfully I don't have to see any schools these days, so I can't really comment on the current state of things, but I do recall that in my grade school years we could probably have re-enacted Lord of the Flies without an adult noticing, at the school playground, the park, or any similar place. It seemed to work out fine, by and large. Probably because nobody had read Lord of the Flies at that point, but still.

The need parents feel to keep their kids closer and closer is strange to me. Mostly because kids bug me, but even beyond that. It seems important, to me, that you be allowed to absorb things that are completely outside of your family and school. You know, the world at large, but somehow we end up shortening the leashes year after year. Some of it, I guess, is because people are always convinced that they are less safe now than before, regardless of empirical evidence to the contrary.

Maybe we're all turning into Pares.

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"And then, it hits me: the ... (Below threshold)

March 18, 2009 9:45 PM | Posted by David Johnson: | Reply

"And then, it hits me: the reason these parents are playing with their kids and not on the benches is in order not to interact with the other parents."

Mind reading- nice gig if you can get it ....

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I'm a parent at that playgr... (Below threshold)

March 18, 2009 11:55 PM | Posted by Audi: | Reply

I'm a parent at that playground! And my husband usually comes with me. I try not to get distracted by adult conversation, so that the other parents won't think I'm an inattentive parent. Once I was half ignoring my child a few feet away at a store and a kind lady who was standing just a bit closer pointed out that she could have been an abductor. I'm really glad that so many parents are paying close attention to their children, and so many adults are paying attention to any stalking pedophiles. So the kids are safer. ... why is our generation so afraid?

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I remember when casually st... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2009 12:41 AM | Posted by Dr Benway: | Reply

I remember when casually striking up a conversation with a stranger seemed like no big deal, when there was no backdrop of freaky suspicion. If a person didn't give of a psycho vibe in the first few minutes, they were probably okay.

We were outside more then. It was fun finding out what people were like. Not major fun, just fun. Like taking a walk.

Between the Internet and work there's not much time for hanging out and wandering around.

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The 'could have been' abduc... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2009 12:58 AM | Posted, in reply to Audi's comment, by ...: | Reply

The 'could have been' abductor could also have been a crazy lady with a gun who wanted to shoot everyone in sight, but I guess you just lucked out again...

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This is another of these 't... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2009 2:35 AM | Posted by gabe: | Reply

This is another of these 'these days' things that is actually about class and gender trajectory.

Working-class kids *these* days still have lots of unsupervised play. Posh upper middle class kids 30 years ago had much more adult interaction. Current parents had different social norms as kids (stay at home mothers, divided gender roles, etc) which made parent-kid play less likely, and socialising (mainly between mothers) more likely.

The generation of narcissists you are talking about won't have their parents playing with them when they are 8, but they will have a justified sense of entitlement because they have grown up in social class with lots of expectations about cultivation and growth.

This 'narcissism' stuff is just 'permissive society' anecdotal scare mongering. I remember people saying that if we stopped beating (they used to say 'chastising') children they would become egotistical nonsense. This woman would have been FOR maintaining coroporal punishment 30 years ago.

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I've been having an interna... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2009 10:40 AM | Posted by chris: | Reply

I've been having an internal discussion with myself lately about our society's relationship with pride. I think it relates to this discussion of narcissism...

I believe "pride" as accepted by society today, in relation to ourselves or others, is covertly dangerous. Of course certain types of boastful pride are frowned on by the majority, but I would argue that we should extend this aversion to the more accepted versions too: Pride in a "good day's work", "job well done", or even in your child's accomplishments.

Most people would scoff at your moral superiority if you suggested they shouldn't be proud of their kids or their own career, particularly if both were above average/successful. I would argue that taking pride in either allows a person (or their child) to take way too much credit.

For me its like this: We all have different starting points... genetic predisposition for intelligence, athleticism, personality, motivation, etc, etc. Doesn't matter where we start though, each person's duty is to use these attributes to the "best" of their ability. Now, "best" does not mean working 80 hours a week or striving for perfection; just doing the requisite amount of legwork to make efficient and balanced use of your natural ability in any area, without neglecting others (career, family, health, societal contribution, whatever).

This fair amount of effort, combined with natural ability, produces a result. But taking pride in the successful result OR the effort invested is indulgent. I can feel self-satisfied or content about what I have done without being "proud". Proud is the problem, because along with it comes entitlement. Entitled people do not handle life's curve balls well.

So: Pride versus Contentment... Semantics you say? Maybe. I just don't want my kid "proud" of doing his homework well.

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Intending no disrespect, th... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2009 11:50 AM | Posted by anon: | Reply

Intending no disrespect, the consistently denigrating tone of your narcissism posts creates an ironic air of superiority about you--that you're above it all. I rarely get any sense that you connect empathically with the pathologies (and foibles) of the subjects of your posts. Something essential is missing with this pathology-is-them and we-are-better approach to clinical description. It is more reiterative than enlightening. That happens sometimes in psychotherapy supervision in the form of parallel processes that reiterate pathological interactions in the therapeutic dyad.

I'd like to see a more attentiveness to this dimension in your descriptions, relating them more to everyday pathology that we all know about first-hand because pathological processes lurk within all of us.

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Part of the reason you are ... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2009 12:12 PM | Posted by Common Reader: | Reply

Part of the reason you are seeing what you are seeing at the playground is playground design.

Old school playgrounds have comfortable seating for adults that allows us to sit and socialize while observing the whole playground and all entrances and exits. New style playground design places the benches so as to deliberately block lines of sight. You will even see new style playgrounds where the only benches are placed with their backs to the play structures. Apparently there was some study of bench locations that showed if you put the benches out of line of sight of the play structures there are fewer injuries at the playground. Because everyone is a moron no one seems to have realized this isn't because the parents are sitting down on benches where they can't see their children; it's because if you fail to place the benches so as to provide clear lines of sight, no one sits down. Instead we all follow our children around the visually frustrating playground and this results in fewer injuries, but also less fun.

Full disclosure: I let children play at the playground by themselves as soon as they can cross the street by themselves. The real question is why people continue to deflect their anxiety about cars, which really kill you, onto imaginary monsters. Another real question: why did people accept the demolition of the wonderful satisfying playgrounds of our childhood with the plastic safety playgrounds of suck that they were replaced with? Why don't people rise up and hang the last safety playground designer with the guts of the last ADA lawyer?

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Hi Chris, I agree with you ... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2009 12:14 PM | Posted, in reply to chris's comment, by Audi Byrne: | Reply

Hi Chris, I agree with you mostly. I think that being more subdued and matter of fact about accomplishments is a good character trait. An expectation that there will be some success if you try hard to do well, and a simultaneous realization that success also depends upon blessings and talents that were granted to you. However, I would disagree only on emphasis, as I think that parental pride is (usually) a relatively minor fault. For example, the opposite of prideful could be inattentive. (It's difficult to juggle being attentive without also being proud. Perhaps pride is the parent's reward for attentiveness?) So while I agree pride often goes too far, I think it is the lesser of two evils if we can't have a perfect balance.

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I'll go one further. It's n... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2009 3:24 PM | Posted by Joseph Bergevin: | Reply

I'll go one further. It's not just that parents are inflating their kids' egos, but that modern economies have insulated us from a basic appreciation of want and need.

People living in a modern economy don't contemplate the unusual nature of their situation. It's assumed that the apparatus of industry and infrastructure are public goods. From a contemparary perspective, they've always been there and always will. People take, as a baseline, that these things are common and trivial. Being common and trivial, they're considered to be a natural resource, of sorts. Of course there are power lines and food and clothing. These things just are.

The modern person sees what was once a daily and often losing battle for survival as a given. What does this leave? We've spent most of our species' existence too hungry and diseased to worry about ideals and image. We had reality to deal with. Now we have most of our animal needs met for us, by a system we don't understand and, so, don't think about. It's not impressive anymore to put food on the table or sleep in a bed.

The system meets our need for surival - food, shelter, safety - but it still doesn't address sex. That's where narcissism comes in. Narcisissm seems to be an exaggerated display of leadership qualities, meant to establish desirability. In the absence of real threats and tight-knit clan allegiances, everyone is a potential leader, as the payoff is bigger than simply being a team player. Narcisissm says "I've got a plan. Listen to me."

It reminds me of people like Michael Jackson. If his dad had died before he could push his son to become a star, what would he be like today? If he had to work for Wal-Mart or the post office, he wouldn't have had the freedom from reality necessary to disengage from it as he has. He'd be more "grounded."

I wonder if this recession will have any impact on people's reality. Jobs aren't a given. They never were, but now it's more obvious. You aren't a special person who's entitled to a special job, you were just born in the right place and time, and people all over the world are now getting in line with you. Soon you won't only be unremarkable as an American, but as a person.

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All of us pay way too much ... (Below threshold)

March 21, 2009 8:17 AM | Posted, in reply to Audi's comment, by Jack Coupal: | Reply

All of us pay way too much attention to our media.

The news and entertainment media (often, one and the same)constantly tell us all the dangers to which we and our children are exposed. We may be adults, but the media consider us all children in need of constant instruction.

It's sad that our children are no longer allowed to be children.

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I suspect that this is more... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2009 10:12 AM | Posted, in reply to Audi's comment, by Histrion: | Reply

I suspect that this is more the cause of the behavior TLP witnessed at the playground: parents are ignoring other parents because they're afraid of accusations that they're insufficiently attentive to their children. It's not just the threat of Child Protective Services (or a thousand disparaging comments on the Intarwebs) materializing if your little guy scrapes his knee; having grown up in the generation that wrapped itself around "mommy and daddy issues," they don't want to be on the receiving end of what they themselves dealt out (and might still be dealing out).

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I think the problem is that... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2009 12:39 PM | Posted by stoicus: | Reply

I think the problem is that people have fewer and fewer kids. My grandmother and mother both grew up in a family of four. Most families today have 1-2 kids. You can't always be #1 to mommy and daddy if you are the only kid. It won't be the end of the world if you fail a test, because little brother "stewie" might be headed to the emergency room for sticking crayons up his nose. That means every little thing you do is not a crisis or a jubilee. Plus with so many other kids around -- siblings plus their friends and your friends -- you have to learn to fend for yourself a bit, and you can't get away with being too narsisitic.

Besides mommy wouldn't be able to follow you on the playground if she has to keep track of 3 other kids.

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I think the kids are collat... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2009 4:24 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I think the kids are collateral damage of this generations egocentric narcissistic parents. These parents that are hovering around their children give off a "look at what a better parent I am than you are". I find parents now are the most insecure generation of parents. They wring their hands not for what could happen to their children, but for what THEY could be made to feel responsible for, or worse yet, how it will make them look. These parents are the, "not my child" parents. It isn't for protection of the child...please, it is for protection of the parents' ego. We aren't out their hyper-vigilant for our children's welfare, we are out their hyper-vigilant for ourselves! Selfish...insecure...contant need to reassurance...hmmm, that sounds familiar - oh yeah, NARCISSISTIC. Narcissism breeds narcissism. A general lack of empathy for others and a constant believe we are smarter/better/faster/yadayada than the other mommy/daddy/whatever perfectly describes the hovering parent. These are the same parents who get a general sick pleasure in watching their son/daughter's classmate fail, because that means that their parent isn't so hot. (You know you have seen it) The lack of peer-to-peer interaction is a "Look at me, look how attentive I am and I don't have time for small talk with you" persona. Sounds familiar? "me me me". These narcissists' sycophants are the children, until they get old enough to not "please" the parents by validating all that the parent held them up to be. The final blow: emotional abandonment, or worse; shaming and contempt. Where does this leave little Johnny? Insecure, angry, alone with a big bag of issues primed for his own narcissism or antisocial problems.

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Thanks God(literary device)... (Below threshold)

September 16, 2009 7:48 PM | Posted by AContrario: | Reply

Thanks God(literary device) I found your blog!

Until now I thought I was the one going bonkers...It is endearing
to hear a professional(yes that's you) confirms what I have been
observing and suffering the last 5 years.

I live in London(UK) and I noticed this narcissistic trend picking up
momentum since the Banking culture(money+greed) started pervading
and corrupting all the social layers in London.

Specially women and youngsters seem to be the more affected by this
mental virus.

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narcissistic personalities ... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2009 1:36 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

narcissistic personalities are nothing new. They have always been around and they have always been delusional. Michael Jackson would still have been just as delusional if his father had lived but not pushed him to be a star, because it was his father's abuse that made him a narcissist. Michael's money is what allowed him to display his illusions of grandeur. I know a man who is 55 years old and delusional but you would never know it. He lies constantly and is a drug dealer so he doesn't have to work at walmart but he still indulges in his delusions. If he doesn't have a place to live, he tells himself it's because he is being persecuted by authorities and must remain elusive and on the move. Whatever reality puts in front of him, he deludes himself into believing that the cause is something that makes him "special".

This mental survival mechanism is not new, but society has always kept a tight lid on it by creating tight knit social circles and also by the necessity of facing reality to survive. At this point we are all disconnected from each other and from the basic needs of survival. That allows narcissitic personalities to thrive and become more narcissistic. When so many of us are narcissistic, that makes it a cultural norm. Now our culture is narcissistic and narcissism is part of the scenery. It's so normal that you cannot distinguish it as abnormal. Michael seems OK, and that drug dealer guy? Well everyone likes him. If he sees people not liking him he will use the pity ploy and people will feel sorry for him. If the pity ploy runs out, he rages. Seems normal...

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I think you're using a nega... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2015 3:49 PM | Posted, in reply to chris's comment, by Atarii: | Reply

I think you're using a negative definition of pride.

How about this: "I'm proud of you, son."

Do you still think the same?

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