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Study: Are you turning your child into a narcissist?

Posted March 10, 2015

Not everybody came home with a medal at the Odyssey of the Mind eastern regional tournament in 2014.

Does your son have extraordinary gifts? Would your daughter's class be as much fun if she weren't in it? Your answer to those questions could determine, in part, whether or not you're turning your child into a narcissist, according to a study from Ohio State University that's trending on social media today.

"Children whose parents think they’re God’s gift to the world do tend to outshine their peers – in narcissism," a press release about the study said. "In a study that aimed to find the origins of narcissism, researchers surveyed parents and their children four times over one-and-a-half years to see if they could identify which factors led children to have inflated views of themselves."

"Results showed that parents who 'overvalued' their children when the study began ended up with children who scored higher on tests of narcissism later on," the release said. The release also has a handy quiz you can take to find out if you overvalue your child, age 8 to 12.

As I read the study and the news reports about it, my mind went immediately to this weekend's awards ceremony at the Odyssey of the Mind regional tournament at Wake Tech in Garner. Teams from across the region competed in various skits and performances that required them to build structures from balsa wood or create rubber band powered devices or develop their own silent movie.

Not every team could win. And my daughter's team, which I helped coach, didn't take home a medal. It was a tight field and a tough lesson to learn after her team won first place last year. Sure, there were tears and disappointment - among my team members and from other team members, who worked so hard for months and didn't take home anything physical  from the competition to show for it.

It also reminded me of the spelling bee at my daughter's school earlier this year. At each round, kids were knocked down, some crying. It was all on public display.

"It's like the Hunger Games out there," I joked with a friend.

But here's the thing: Losing is tough. But it's good. It's healthy. And, let's face it, nobody is perfect, including that little me you've got tucked under your arm.

Constantly giving kids rewards; praising them for every little thing; awarding them with medals after every sports season regardless of performance; or telling them they are the best at everything does a disservice to them. So does making excuses for them when they lose.

This all doesn't mean that kids shouldn't feel good about themselves.

The study pulls out the difference between children with high self-esteem and narcissists. Kids with high self-esteem didn't see themselves as more special than others, the release says. They just said they were "happy with themselves and liked the kind of person they were."

In fact, researchers found that constant coddling and praising can hurt our kids.

"While parental overvaluation was associated with higher levels of child narcissism over time, it was not associated with more self-esteem," the release said. "In contrast, parents who showed more emotional warmth did have children with higher self-esteem over time. Parental warmth was not associated with narcissism."

I don't know about you, but I'd rather raise a child who turns into an adult with high self-esteem instead of a narcissist.

Lead author Eddie Brummelman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands who worked with Ohio State researchers, offered some advice for parents.

“Parent training interventions can, for example, teach parents to express affection and appreciation toward children without telling children that they are superior to others or entitled to privileges,” he said.

On Saturday, after the tournament results were in, I hugged my daughter. And then I hugged her some more.

"If we didn't lose sometimes, it means we're not trying new things. We're not stretching ourselves," I told her in my version of a post-game pep talk. "Not everybody is perfect. Not everybody can do things perfectly all of the time. I can't. You can't. But I love you."

"I love you, too," she replied.

Sarah is a mom of two and editor of Go Ask Mom.


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  • Barbara Sossomon Mar 10, 2015
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    Not everyone wins or is perfect, but this idea of everyone gets a trophy, and no one keeps score, is a direct result of that. We do not want little X to feel bad, think that they cannot do everything, think that they did anything wrong. Face it folks, Little X is just NOT going to become a billionaire for playing tiddlewinks.

  • Fred Garner Mar 10, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread


  • Corey Jenkins Mar 10, 2015
    user avatar

    Parents today are afraid to take any kind of responsibility of the problems their kids have. You need to just look in the mirror to see where your kid' problems come from.

  • Charles Ratliff Mar 10, 2015
    user avatar

    I think that they wrote this about my sister and niece! Anytime the child makes a bad grade it's the teachers' fault. Anytime she loses a game, someone cheated, etc. My niece decided at age 13 that she wanted to be a fashion model, and of course my sister was thrilled. Even though my niece is cute, she has about the same chance of becoming a model that a bulldog in becoming a greyhound. Even though all respectable agencies say to just send in snapshots, my sister hired a professional photographer for over $1000 to do head shots. When my niece was rejected, they blamed the photographer and decided to FLY to NYC to visit agencies in person, with predictable results. Now my niece says she has "depression" "anxiety" and doesn't want to study anymore due to the trauma and mom is right there with her!

  • Fred Garner Mar 10, 2015
    user avatar

    Seems almost all kids think there are entitled - to something. And the vast majority are not respect OR that actions have consequences. "MY parents will get me out of it". And the sad part is that schools let the parents get away with it.

  • Lorna Schuler Mar 10, 2015
    user avatar

    Most of us have seen the end result of parents who overvalued their children... and in general it's not pretty.

    Your approach is right on Sarah. We want our children to stretch their wings, try to achieve, but at the same time instill in them as you do, that not everyone will win or be perfect.

    More importantly, provide support and sound advice. Praise the effort, ask what they learned from it and if they still think that particular endeavor is their cup of tea.