How Too Much Praise Can Turn Kids Into Narcissists
If your kids can't stop taking selfies of themselves before even hitting puberty, you may want to reconsider how much praise you're dishing out to them.
A new study from Ohio State University suggests that constant — and perhaps undeserved — praise for our children's smallest accomplishments may cause them to develop over-inflated egos. And they'll most likely carry that superiority complex with them past childhood and into adulthood.
"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," said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study, in a press release.
For the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers conducted interviews with 565 children ages 7 to 12 and their parents every six months over an 18-month period.
Every six months of the study period, the children were asked to rate their response to 10 items on the Childhood Narcissism Scale from 0-3, with 0 being "not at all true" and 3 being "completely true." The statements included "Kids like me deserve something extra," "Kids like me are happy with themselves as a person," and, most unnervingly, "I am very good at making other people believe what I want them to believe."
For the parents, the researchers used the parental overvaluation scale, which includes statements like "My child is a great example for other children to follow" and "I would find it disappointing if my child was just a 'regular' child."
The researchers found that, even after taking into account the narcissism levels of the parents, parental overvaluation was the largest predictor of a child's narcissism over time. But perhaps surprisingly, it did not predict self-esteem. In other words, just because a kid constantly hears how exceptional he or she is doesn't mean that kid will have healthy self-esteem — it just makes them more narcissistic.
"People with high self-esteem think they're as good as others, whereas narcissists think they're better than others," Bushman said.
So, according to lead author Eddie Brummelman, it's a good thing to think your child is awesome, but thinking he or she is more awesome than other kids can lead to trouble down the road.
However, parents are not solely to blame for narcissism in their children, the study authors said.
"Like other personality traits, it is partly the result of genetics and the temperamental traits of the children themselves," they write.
But Bushman, a father of three, said that his research has made him more aware of the words he chooses when he deals with his children: "When I first started doing this research in the 1990s, I used to think my children should be treated like they were extra-special. I'm careful not to do that now."
It's obviously important to show your kids how much you love them in order to boost their self-esteem, but you're definitely not doing them any favors by putting them on a pedestal.