Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Would You Like a Side of Narcissism With That?

The recent debate over how to praise kids (Is it okay to say that they’re smart? Is it dangerous to say "good job"?) prompted an observation from my mother: "I don’t remember ever being praised," she said, "and my friends don’t either. It was just really clear that we weren’t all that important." To be sure, her parents were not exactly paragons: my grandmother worked full-time, so from a young age my mother was expected to let herself into the house after school and put on the potatoes for supper. In the summers, she was farmed out Monday through Friday to a family who boarded her on a cot behind the piano, where she cowered each night when the man of the house came home drunk.

These anecdotes give a false impression of my grandparents, though – they were basically decent, caring parents: their decisions may seem shocking today, but at the time they were considered to be quite normal. Measured by the results, they were very effective parents indeed: my mother is an empathetic, intelligent woman with a steady moral compass – something she attributes to her upbringing: she always knew that her parents expected honesty and fairness from her and it took very little to secure her compliance with these expectations.

Being a working mother was both harder and easier in my grandmother’s day: day-care was non-existent, but then again, so was judgment. Though her choice to work was unusual, it was not fraught with the same atmosphere of guilt that working mothers struggle with today: my grandmother did not come home at the end of the day and try to make up for her absence by lavishing her daughter with undivided attention. This was the 1950s, and mothers had not yet moved into the workforce in large enough numbers to prompt a backlash: the culture of parenting still insisted that parents came first, and that it was actually good for children, both morally and psychologically, to know their place.

An article in this morning’s newspaper reports that levels of narcissism are rising among college-age students. Compared to 1982, when the study was initiated, college students in 2006 scored 30% higher on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which asked them to respond to statements such as "I think I am a special person" and "I can live my life any way I want to." Researcher W. Keith Campbell commented on the results by observing that although narcissism can be useful for American Idol auditions, it also puts people at risk for "infidelity … game-playing, dishonesty and over-controlling and violent behaviours."

I wonder, myself, whether the usefulness of the instrument has changed over the years. A generation raised on Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood need not be narcissistic to agree that they are special: we’re all special, these days – only someone with unusually low self-esteem would deny it. Assuming, though, that there is some validity to the study’s conclusions, these increasing levels of narcissism seem like a predictable result of the sea change in parenting that has occurred over the last few decades.

When my parents were growing up (during the halcyon days of stay-at-home mothers and white picket fences), social gatherings did not revolve around the children: adults did not congregate to admire their antics or to brag about their accomplishments. Children were placed at the kiddy table so that the grown-ups could get on with their own (more important) conversations. Family life, likewise, did not revolve around enriching child-oriented activities: as my mother put it, there were no activities back then, aside from the occasional swimming lessons – only vast swathes of time during which children were not only physically free to roam the neighbourhood but also emotionally free – free from the hothouse environment of modern parenting, free from the eagle eyes of approving parents, always at the ready with a supportive remark or a carefully chosen compliment.

Much of what I’m saying here is, of course, well-known: the problems of over-scheduling are well-documented, while the perils of the child-controlled family have been the target of many an op-ed. But what hasn’t yet been said enough, I think, is that there is something fundamentally problematic about the way that our culture frames mothering in terms of "what is best for the children." Should mom work or stay at home? Under what circumstances can a mother allow her baby to cry it out? Exactly how miserable does she have to be before something other than the child’s immediate happiness is considered important?

Even when someone is daring enough to suggest that the mother’s happiness is a factor to be entered into the parenting equation, the idea is usually presented in "best for the children" terms: it’s essential for mothers to be happy because children need emotionally stable mothers to thrive. I would argue that it’s important for mothers to be happy because they are people too – their happiness is neither more nor less important than anyone else’s.

But, just in case that argument doesn’t fly, I like to have that "best for the children" clause in my back pocket: we can’t put our children first all the time because, ultimately, that’s not in their best interests. A bit of benign neglect not only fosters independence and creativity: it also relieves children of the burden of being the centre of the universe.

35 comments:

Mary-LUE said...

Oh goodness, I could go on and on about this topic. I do believe narcissism is on the rise, whether it is completely due to a change in parenting over the years or not, I do not know. I suspect a consumer-driven culture adds to it. I wonder though, if the type of narcissism the study reveals is different than a clinical diagnosis. Can you be brought up in such a way that you have narcissistic beliefs or tendencies but have the capacity to be changed by experience? (I wonder about this because I've seen the attitude described in the study in plenty of people, but I've only ever run into one or two people who I would say were so narcissistic they don't seem capable of growing as a person. (This did not exactly stay on point with your post... sorry.)

I do agree with you on your points about mothers being people, too. (Go figure!) I have a friend who made it clear to me her view of parenting: she and her husband invited their children into their family... the whole family. The needs of the family were always taken into consideration, not just the needs of the children. (I may not be explaining that clearly, but it made sense to me when she said it!) I know there have been times when my husband and I have had to make a decision that on paper might seem like it wouldn't benefit one of our children (limited participation in organized sports, etc.) However, we made those decisions knowing that the alternative would exact too high a price from the family as a whole.

metro mama said...

You're right, in my book anyway.

Thank God.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I could go on and on too...

I didn't read the study but I don't agree that "I can live my life any way I want to" is necessarily a narcissistic comment. I mean, *I* think that, though of course certain caveats apply. I think I can run for mayor if I want, but not until the kids are older. For example. Self-confidence is not narcissism.

That said, young aldults these days are a pain in the a*s. The kids just now coming into the workforce have a sense of entitlement that is breathtaking. I could tell you some crazy stories about 22-year-olds that my husband has had to work with. ("Wear close-toed shoes? How dare you criticize my clothing? I'd rather quit!")

Lastly... I do wonder whether there's a gap between the media's portrayal of how families operate & the reality. When we have couples over for dinner, the kids are here & playing but we don't pay them the slightest attention -- unless someone gets hurt or is being really awful. They just run around screaming like maniacs. To my mind that's equivalent to the dinner parties our parents used to have.

Antique Mommy said...

I could not agree more. When I hear parents say that they are "always" available to their children, I think what a disservice. Why not provide them with an opportunity to solve a problem, the slog their way through a situation and own the victory. A book I recently read called "How To Raise A Responsible Child" speaks to these issues and was quite enlightening.

cinnamon gurl said...

Oh good, so I can shed latest round of maternal guilt about blogging too much.

Oh, The Joys said...

Phew. Thank heaven for Bub and Pie! Thanks for writing that!

Terri B. said...

Seems like I see way too much in both extremes. Either the parent has eyes and attention only for the child(ren), or I see parents who are so narcissistic themselves that they don't even know their own children exist. I know there is a happy balance.

Children need adults to help them learn over time that they are not the center of the universe. If they grow to adulthood with the self perception of a 2 year old they are going to be mightily disappointed in life. And what happens when too many people are stunted in this way? Scary world.

Andrea said...

I completely agree.

I've got to say that Frances has never had that kind of hothouse mothering from me--mostly because I'm incapable of it. I've always thought that as long as she seems happy playing on her own, I'm going to sit on the couch with a book or the laptop.

But at the same time, I think it is so incredibly, horribly unfair that on the one hand parenting experts continually bombard parents with the message that their child needs constant stimulation and education in order to achiev etheir potential, but on the other hand if you give them that you are turning them into narcissistic freaks. It is impossible to win, impossible to be a 'good mother.' And it is, once again, parents who get the shaft on it both ways.

Julie Pippert said...

"They" have been Banned from My Head.

I mix it up, what I do. Some old school walk-the-plank parenting mixed with touchy-feeling-AP mixed with new-age-find-you-own-bliss-directional parenting with a good sized dollop of fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pant parenting.

I don't know if narcissism is on the rise. I guess it is. I thought so, this seems to say so. My mother the teacher has been saying so for about 15 years.

Or she and I could just be getting old. I hear aging brings on horrid cases of fuddy duddy in many cases.

My children get my attention, but they know they are two pieces of a large pie and Mom has to service all areas.

So they thrive under benign neglect. :)

And I believe nothing I hear on TV.

bubandpie said...

Jennifer - I've had a few students with a truly colossal sense of entitlement - but they are the exceptions and not the norm. (Probably there were people like that 20 years ago as well.)

My children get a healthy share of benign neglect, but at the same time I think I'm very much affected by the "children first" mentality. During supper this evening, hubby interrupted me at least five times to address a remark to one of the children - sometimes a response to a question, but other times just a random remark.

From that, we can conclude that (a) I talk a lot at suppertime, and (b) both hubby and I are influenced by the idea that our conversations ought to be subordinated to our primary task of interacting with the children. It's not that we interact with the kids non-stop, but rather that we consider that our JOB, and one we're always slacking off from.

Blog Antagonist said...

What an interesting topic. I think it's something we can debate infintely, with no real clarity as to what, ultimately, creates the kind of adults we all want our children to be.

I did, however, after 12 years of parenting, learn to start making myself a priority without the guilt and I can tell you that it's absolutely true that a mentally balanced Mom is a better parent.

I live in a very child centric community, where the kids do and have everything. It's worth noting that a I truly dislike a great many of Pre-Pubescent One's peers. It's not a feeling I am familiar or comfortable with, but one I have come to accept. I suppose my parents felt the same about my friends who had a more privileged upbringing than mine.

Are we raising a generation of socially inept and morally irredeemable individuals? I think it's certainly possible. But I don't think that I'd want to go back to the old ways, when children were mere chattel to be used and abused as their parents saw fit.

There's got to be some middle ground. We just need to find it.

Mouse said...

I like and appreciate your Mister Rogers comment. I actually hope most people would agree with the statement, "I am a special person." And I guess the intent behind "I can live my life any way I want to" is "I can live how I want withou regards to others," but what if it's interpreted more along the lines of "I have the power to create a fulfilling life."

Not that I don't see any of what the study discusses. Just that their sample questions are not all that out there.

With my son, I felt that he deserved to feel like he was the center of the world up to a point, but he has always been good at independent play and is accustomed to "Not right now."

jen said...

this is a terrific topic. i try and balance the "you are so terrifics" with doses of "you need to deal with this on your owns" and heck if i know if it works.

i do feel, though, that varied experiences, places, socio-economic and societal fluctuations and exposure all help to round out whatever the view our kids are already forming. so it can't all be about them, but it doesn't need to be scary, either. it's why i take M to work w/ me sometimes, and why it's ok if it's a little freaky but still safe at the same time.

i am uncertain if any of that makes sense, but i'll go with it.

Mad Hatter said...

Interesting that I am posting this drunk, after my night out at book club. Lord what to say here. I try to walk a fine line BUT I HAVE THIS CHILD, you know, this CLINGY, CLINGY child who asserts herself by demanding a child-centred approach and, in short, I am pretty f-d up about the whole thing. In fact I had planned all week to write about it tonight (her clingy-ness, her demands, her phobias) but I went to book club and got drunk instead.

Interesting don't'cha think?

Pls ignore drunken typos.

Kyla said...

I think there is a balance. There SHOULD be a balance. I think it is more difficult to find that balance because of the scrutiny put on mothering by the outside world. We are told so many things and even when we don't fully believe those things, we are still affected by them.

I think we are close to a good balance around here. My kids get that healthy dose of benign neglect (thank you blogging *lol*), but I am also there when then want or need me. Josh and I try very hard to meet our needs as people and not only do things "for the children". But then I hear a conversation or read an article and I question myself, "Am I doing enough? Do I spend enough 1 on 1 time with them?" ect, ect. But we're trying to have a balance.

nik said...

Thank you! This post was extremely thought-provoking. You are completely deserving of your CHBM honor- but don't go getting all narcissistic on us. Aw hell, do it, you've certainly earned the right!

NotSoSage said...

Did the study actually draw a link between narcissism and parenting? If so, I think it could be argued that it's a spurious association...or at least there are much larger factors to consider.

First: I hope that Mme L would respond yes to both of those individual questions, in the future. Well, within limits, I suppose. I hope that she doesn't think that she can become a serial killer. But the instrument has to be looked at as a whole, rather than its individual components. I'm not familiar with it, but I imagine it's more about whether there is any expression of reservation or thoughtfulness on the part of other people than whether someone responded yes to either of those questions.

Second: I do think that each generation (as a whole) in North America is being imbued with a greater and greater sense of entitlement. But is it mothers (or parents) that are responsible? Perhaps partly so, but I think that's likely because parents feel pressured by the consumer culture we live in to supply their children with everything that they ask for.

Children demand more and more because they see their peers being able to do the same thing. So when does the responsibility fall away from parents and onto a larger societal/cultural machine that drives this sense of entitlement?

I'm torn, because I want to be able to give Mme L the things she needs, and I rejoice in my ability to do that so far, but I also need - for my own piece of mind - to deny her some of the things she will want. I will feel an incredible amount of guilt over that and, if she's got any brains, she will work that feeling, needling me further and further into what might be irresponsible decisions.

I hope that, along the way, I can teach her that she is special, she can do anything she sets her mind to and that, because of that, she has a responsibility to give back to those who don't feel that way about themselves.

(Yikes, sorry for the long comment!)

bubandpie said...

Sage - Good question. I don't know what the study did, but the newspaper article moved from the study to a book by one of the researchers entitled Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - and More Miserable Than Ever Before and then closed with a recommendation of "more authoritative parenting. Less indulgence might be called for."

As Andrea pointed out, this is just another way to blame parents - and perpetuate the contradictory and impossible demands on them. A sense of entitlement is certainly fostered by larger social forces. Several years ago, during a teachers' strike, I was irked by the way both sides refused to discuss the basic issues of workload and fair compensation - instead, both sides were constantly diverted by these abstract claims of what would be "best for the children" - as if we ought to turn teachers into indentured servants if that turns out to be best for the children. It's a powerful rhetorical argument, to be sure (and that's why neither side could resist using it), but it's a distraction from the real issues.

Whenever we talk about generational differences, we're dealing with something other than mere parenting choices: both parents AND children have no choice about the cultural atmosphere in which they exist.

This same kind of cultural shift occurred at the end of the Victorian period: the Edwardians worshipped childhood as a reaction against the "children should be seen, not heard" approach to parenting - and when that spoiled generation grew up, they continued to prioritize their own lives and so moved the pendulum back again.

Angela said...

Bravo! I love my children dearly and through my actions and words I hope they realize that they are important and special. We try and instill the message that respect for themselves and others is extremely important. The respect for others message,I hope, will help them realize that the world does not revolve around them, they have to be aware that their actions and words has an impact on others and to care about people.

Also, by paying attention to our relationship as a couple is really important to my husband and I. We don't want to wake up 10 years from now when the kids are off to university and realize that we don't know each other. We go on dates on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes, my daughter will ask "but why are you going out, don't you want to be with us?" yes, guilt from a 9 year old, and I respond with "we love spending time with you and your brother but Mommy and Daddy need to spend time together, we need grown up time" I don't add the words "otherwise we would go insane and they would take us away in strait jackets" but you get the picture.

Jenifer G. said...

This is a great topic and in my circle of friends this is a frequent discussion topic.

I tend to lean towards the idea that heaping on the constant praise can actually devalue your comments. If you trail behind your child with a constant stream of "good job, good try or that is wonderful sweetie" you undermine the value of this type of encouragement.

I have heard kids tell parents they know their rights and other such comments. I think kids have every right as humans as adults. That said, when did we empower children to be adults? I would have never dreamed of speaking to my parents in such a way. When Papoosie Girl gets bold (usually mild just her being frustrated) I wonder what would have happened to me if I had talked to my mother that way. The thing is, I wouldn't have talked that way. Period.

As an only child I can say with assurance being the centre of the universe is not always pleasant. The way we frame it is, this is our family, we are all important and all have our jobs. Sometimes, we will do things for kids and sometimes for the grown-ups, we take turns. We have family rules for everyone to follow and they are based on common sense not adults dominating the kids.

Ultimately, it really is what is best for the kids as you say, because if the whole family is happy and harmonious that is good for everyone.

Beck said...

Gorgeous post.
This is a huge issue with me because I'm home with the little creeps all day and finding the balance between me and them is difficult. I will sing Little Bunny Foo Foo more times than I think a human should reasonably have to, but then I'll also sulk in the tub with a detective novel for an hour after my husband is home.
But how much happiness am I entitled to? I don't think mothers are entitled to their happiness, for example, at the expense of their children - and I've seen many, many mothers make decisions that were horribly damaging to their kids on the grounds that they were entitled to be happy. I do think that my children's welfare comes before mine, and that several generations of entitlement have blurred that idea for many women.

Aliki2006 said...

So many good comments here...my MIL and her family criticize us (well me, mainly) I know because she/they think I put our children's needs first about 99.9% of the time. Yes, this might be perceived as creating a type of narcissism in our offspring but then again, I do believe that kids are entitled to that--it may be the only time in their lives that they will get that type of center-of-the-universe treatment. They will learn quickly (and in fact my poor son already has) that the needs of others and the demands of the world will often supercede his conception of himself as Number One.

I do think it varies from child-to-child as well. My son, as a first child, got way more attention I think then my daughter; but my son's needs were--and have turned out to be--very different than hers and I do think I intuitively knew that, even when he was very small. I can read a book and blog while my daughter plays because I'm confident in her ability to be self-sufficient for a time.

Actually, I have often thought that it is the parents who have become *more* narcissistic now than the children. There seems an increase in the tendency to make the needs of the children secondary and the needs of the parents primary--parenting is hard work and involves an incredible amount of sacrifice--but the bulk of that is only for a few years, relatively speaking. Many parents seem unwilling--to me--to roll their sleeves up and get down the the dirty work of it all.

Emmie (Better Make It A Double) said...

I agree with you, and thank you for the eloquent reminder. My boys are almost two, and I’m starting to reclaim something for myself even in the time I spend with them. It feels good to remember that I don’t have to be a slave to my children’s needs every moment they are awake. I was at our early childhood class yesterday, and they handed out an article about how good manners are good for our children and make them more like-able, thereby raising their self-esteem. This may be true, but the instructor looked a little surprised when I pointed out that not having overly whiny and demanding children was probably equally important for the sanity of the whole family and even the community (though I do realize that this is much easier for some parents and children to accomplish than others).

I don’t know if you encounter this in your neck of the woods, but there is a sub-sect of urban liberal parents here that worship everything “child-centered” or “child-led”. One woman I’m on an e-mail list with was 45 minutes late to a “natural parenting conference” she initiated and organized because she was trying to reach consensus with her 2.5 year old about whether or not to get in the car seat. She ended up taking the bus, and used this anecdote to illustrate and epiphany for her: that she could always “take the time to let her daughter lead”, because nothing was more important, even if it meant keeping a room full of people waiting for close to an hour. I was, and am still baffled by this perspective. I have also met parents who will not honor a child’s request for power over anything lest parental authority be compromised, including choosing a t-shirt or bedtime story or such. The spectrum is dizzyingly vast. It’s enough to make me have a glass of wine with my fellow play-date moms and dish a little instead of pulling out the parachute for some “circle time”.

I think what I struggle with, though, is that perhaps “benign neglect” isn’t as easy as it used to be, especially for older kids. My brother and I were permitted to roam the neighborhood unsupervised and we spent hours and hours with neighborhood kids playing outside, until we moved to California and there were no parks or sidewalks. It was then that my parents bought a VCR and got cable so we wouldn’t be underfoot all the time. In my urban Midwestern neighborhood, the playgrounds are nearly empty except under the most perfect of conditions, and most kids are inside playing video games in a basement or in structured after-school programs. It’s not so much that I want to provide them with “enriching, child-centered activities” as that sending them out the door feels a little like sending them out to let a very unhealthy popular culture have its’ way with them. For now, though, I can certainly teach them that my time is valuable too, hich relates to what I’ve been thinking and writing about lately. My own parenting “toolbox” has to reflect the needs of the entire family. And you’re right – that’s what’s best for them too. (please forgive the long comment)

Mad Hatter said...

Back again. Sober if not wise. There's a fabulous discussion underway here and so, yes, I am going to jump in. First off, a big "yes" to you and a big "yes" to Sage (and others as well). If we are going to absolve parents of so much of this pressure and responsibility then it does have to shift somewhere else, and as Sage rightly puts it, there are systemic pressures in place that force us all into a consumer narcissism.

From the moment the wee Lion King is held up for all to see as the future KING to the saucy backtalk of undergrads who harumpf, "my tuition pays your salary," North American culture is completely enraptured not just by the myth of the individual but by the myth of the individual as prince or princess in waiting. I recently had the mother of one of my husband's students phone me at 11pm on a Friday night looking for the home phone # of the student health doctor who also happens to be my personal friend. Yes, she wanted to call the doctor of her 20-something doctor at home at 11 on a Friday night. That kind of parental interference and presumption in the face of authority simply would not have happened in my day--and though I am old, I am not that old.

I must admit that I rarely worry about how my kid will turn out. I worry about how I am going to deal with issue x today but I don't really worry about the big picture. I find this curious b/c one of the main reasons I put off having kids for so long was that I feared would lose all control of outcomes. My child was destined to rebel, do drugs, hate me...

Then I had Miss M and, now, I don't really worry at all. You see, I trust her. I also trust in the strength of my love for her and my husband's love for her. As for the rest, well, I'll just wait and see. I was raised in chaos and turned out ok. My husband was raised in a relatively stable nuclear family and turned out OK. Chances are Miss M will turn out ok too.

Having said that, I find it interesting that when I read and responded to this when I was drunk last night I completely internalized the post as a commentary on my own parenting style. Sheesh.

One more thing, the topic of narcissism did come up at book club last night. We talked about so many of the university students we see on a daily basis that are still, in their twenties, over-parented (like the example above). I do hope I have the common sense to back away some day and let my daughter grow into a sense of her responsibility to herself and others. Right now, though, she is two. If she demands my attention I will try to pay attention. If she becomes too demanding, I will run off in search of hedonistic pursuits.

And now, soon I have to write my post about striking that balance b/c it is a tricky one in my household.

Did I do it? Did I blather on way longer than I ought to once again?

Mad Hatter said...

"20-something daughter" erg.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I'm back again too. I hope this doesn't veer too far off-topic... So I live in the town where my husband grew up. It used to be really small but has doubled in size in the last 8 years. Meaning this town he used to know like the back of his hand is now completely, utterly different, both physically and culturally. Anyway, he's always complaining about how rude all the Californians are (most of the newcomers are from LA), how inconsiderate, how entitled they behave, etc. And now after Mad's comment I'm wondering if this isn't North American culture as a whole changing, and not just this town.

Kelly said...

I'm totally in awe of this post AND the comments following it.

I have nothing much to add except to say I'm glad someone here (Mad Hatter!) is getting to have a drink!

And that I wonder if you think that maybe a loss of community, of neighborhoods, contributes in some way to the dissipation of the benign neglect way of parenting.

My street? Filled not with children but with retirees. No one really lets their children out and about anymore, to ride bikes alone or to check out the nearby stream. Instead we choose 'safer' outlets, playdates at the park, etc. Our children are much more in our face these days.

When I was growing up, my street was filled with children. We could quite literally be out all day without checking in at home. The atmosphere these days, both real and imagined, has changed in an amazing way.

nomotherearth said...

You illustrated brilliantly one of the points that I was trying to make in my recent post - when I get home from work and only have several hours to spend with the Boy, I'm torn between giving him my undivided attention and continuing my day as it would have gone were I home all day (supper, dishers, laundry with a little one toddling about and helping me with the chores that need to get done). I can't seem to find the balance - and guilt is one of the problems. I'm a bit desperate to find a solution these days.

Melanie said...

Love it! Thank you for raising such a great topic for discussion! I agree that today's parents are centering their children more than our own parents did. And perhaps that's why? The pendulum will swing, probably with our grandkids. Back to parents letting kids know they're not always going to come first. Balance is my goal in life. Balance. Between being the mean mommy (sparing the rod, spoiling the child and all that) and trying to nurture my kids' strengths. It's a balancing act. It is. I think the fact that it is being discussed is so many venues points to the fact that it needs to be discussed and maybe the pendulum is already back in swing. Great post - just great.

bubandpie said...

In response to Beck, Aliki, and Emmie - Maybe part of the problem is that it's so easy to frame this issue in terms of the competing interests of the children vs. the parents (or, let's be realistic - the children vs. the mother).

A big part of the narcissism comes out of how children are raised to interact with adults besides the parents. Emmie's example is salutary: that mother is sacrificing not just her own time but also that of a whole roomful of adults. (Not that it has to be adults - children can also be taught to show respect for and fulfill their commitments to other children.)

I rather suspect that the mothers Beck and Aliki described, who are not putting their children's interests first, are also probably not putting a lot of effort into raising polite, respectful children.

I'm working on another post on this issue...stay tuned.

Gwen said...

Here's what's interesting to me: I wrote about the exact same article and yet never once made the connection between the results of the study and what I felt the media was telling me about parenting. Not that I didn't internalize it. Heh.

One of the ways I want to teach my children that they are not islands is by modeling the kind of behavior in public that acknowledges the needs and desires of others. And then to talk about why I slowed down to let that person cross the road or why I helped someone get the thing that was too high up or why I let the person with fewer groceries get in front of me. I think trying to avoid raising narcissistic children is as much about the society at large as it is about family dynamics.

I'm way past having a child centered family, partly because we decided long ago not to go that way and partly because my kids are older and don't need so much attention anymore. I'm also, like Julie, way past listening to "they" and "them." "They" can bite me.

Mimi said...

This is near to my heart ...

In addition to the benefits of benign neglect, let me add that I think part of our responsibilities as parents is to model adultness to children, to give them a sense of a future self that they might themselves occupy: if everything is kid-centred, kids don't learn what it is to be adult, and little wonder they then choose never to grow up. They don't know how.

Pynchon and I were talking about this over dinner last night, where I remarked that we had turned into my parents: talking over our respective days at the dinner table, glasses of wine, listening to some Frank Sinatra, occasionally tossing Cheerios and grape-chunks to Miss Baby but basically leaving her to her own high chair devices while we engaged in adult pursuits. Just like I remember family dinners as a child. Apparently, they set the model for my adult behaviour, and I'm pretty confident being an adult.

Mimi said...

And I'll bet this new narcissism of college students is not unknown to you -- I see it larger in the early years of university, this very strong belief that everyone deserves an A+ on everything. Because they want it. They feel bad not getting it. They've found out that being the squeaky wheel usually gets them some grease.

Mary-LUE said...

There is an excellent book called Nurturing Good Children Now by Ron Taffel. It discusses the influence of the "second family" which is basically our culture and talks about 10 core values to help your child thrive and counteract the influence of the culture. I'm reminded of it because in reading many of the comments here, I am reminded of many of the core values this book talks about: Respect, Focus, Gratitude, Passion.

I'm reminded that so much of what our children learn is not from what we say but from what we do: taking care of ourselves models to them that they are worthy of attention, helping others models to them that others are worthy of attention, yelling at the dog models to them to yell at the dog (and in their best mommy voice). Perhaps the increase in narcissistic attitudes isn't from child-centered parenting but from self-centered parents. (I think someone else noted that here already.)

Have you ever seen The Real Desperate Housewives of Orange County? I've watched a couple of episodes. Its kind of like watching a train wreck. Anyway, the kids are mostly lost in this sea of selfishness and materialism, but when you see the parents, you see that they are driven to acquire stuff and maintain appearances, etc. I think they've learned from their parents how to behave.

The more I think about it, the more I really think it is a combination of influences but that "child-centered" parenting isn't that high on the list, if a factor at all.

(I said in my first comment on this post that I could go on and on. Apparently, I'm actually going to do that, just in installments.)

Lawyer Mama said...

Love this post! I agree that everything is couched in terms of what's best for the child these days. Even though my kids have their own share of "benign neglect" our lives really do revolve around them. And even though I choose to work when we could certainly afford for me to stay home with them, I always couch any explanation of my decision in terms of "I'm a better parent because I work" and not just "working makes me happy."

I try not to practice hothouse parenting, but I'm afraid that I do it nonetheless. I'm just thankful that I have more than one child because the glare of my spotlight is probably far too harsh for any one child to bear.