The Problem With Telling Your Kids They're Special

It turns out that whole "you deserve the best" mentality could do some serious damage down the road.

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Photo by Hans Neleman/Getty Images

You've probably already heard the debate around whether or not kids should get trophies for participation. Some people argue that trophies offer physical proof of an experience, while others fear that they can reward bad behavior, questioning at what point parents should teach children that, despite being the apple of Mom and Dad's eye, there's probably someone out there who's better at the sport or activity than they are. Now, a new study suggests that praising your child too much could be a fast track to narcissism.

The researchers for the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy, followed more than 550 sets of children, ages seven through 12, along with their parents, for two years. Twice each year, the participants reported on the children's level of narcissism and self-esteem, along with whether the parents were overvaluing their children and the amount of warmth displayed by the parents. The results suggested that it's not a lack of parental warmth that causes narcissistic behavior, but instead a sense of overvaluation. “Rather than raising self-esteem, overvaluing practices may inadvertently raise levels of narcissism,” Eddie Brummelman, the lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Narcissism is on the rise in the U.S., growing as quickly as obesity over the past three decades, The Atlantic reports. Empathy, a trait narcissists lack, has also dropped about 40 percent in college students in the last 20 to 30 years. The growth of narcissism may be due to an increased pressure to outperform others academically, physically, and financially or may even be linked with the use of social media.

No matter the reason for its rapid growth, narcissism probably isn't something you want to promote in your child. Narcissists are described as power-hungry, obsessed with status and appearance, and exhibiting an inflated sense of self-worth. It's also often difficult for them to keep friends. “Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others," Brad Bushman, co-author of the study, said in a statement. "That may not be good for them or for society."

Want to know whether you overvalue your own child? Take this quiz: How Much Do You Overvalue Your Child?