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Too Many Narcissists and It's All the Parents' Fault

A new study has concluded that when parents dote excessively over their offspring, the children grow up to be maladjusted egoists. You think?

The study out of the University of Amsterdam found that parents who overvalue their kids by treating them like precious miracles who are unique and extraordinary wind up (gently) pushing little narcissists out into the world. These kids can't quite recognize their own mediocrity—something the rest of the world sees right away—and they wind up expecting special treatment, fantasizing about personal success and generally feel superior to others.

Researchers looked at 565 kids and 705 parents over two years, giving parents tricky questionnaires to establish whether they overinflated what it is that their kid knows. Their findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to look at emerging narcissism in kids between 7 and 12 years old. Narcissism scores have been increasing among college students in the U.S. in the last decades; this study aims to figure out where all that me me me is starting.

Of course, boots on the ground parents know there's a thin line between encouraging children and buying the delusion that one's own orchid baby is truly, truly exceptional intellectually and otherwise. "Good job," is kind of a verbal tick for parents excited to watch their babies turn into walkers, talkers and skilled Cheerio's graspers. How should they know how much is too much?

This study coupled with others finds that the parental warmth and realism about a child's abilities goes a long way in keeping a child's brain from being wired up narcissistic. So where's the line between a healthy self-esteem (something often conflated with narcissism) and actual narcissism?

The researchers have a test for that too: Does a kid like the kind of person they are or does she agree that kids like her deserve something extra? The former measures self-esteem. The latter? Bingo. You've just raised a narcissist.

Image via Twenty20/Debbie Hearn

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