As a mother, I try to do the right thing, and often I succeed. But sometimes I fail in ways that are hard for me to recognise.
According to an article in the Washington Post, a recent study shows that parents who reinforce ideas of superiority and entitlement during the developmental stage between ages 7 and 11 are more likely to raise narcissistic children than parents who avoid this trap.
The Internet response has been a mixture of interest, defensiveness, attempts to discredit, and rushes to use the results to support unrelated theories of parenting (also known as the typical Internet response). What there has been very little of is honest reflection about how the information could perhaps change the way we parent our children.
A different perspective: “Of course your children are gifted and talented. Mine aren’t, and it’s fine by me.”
First of all, it is important to understand what the research is saying. Telling your daughter that she is a gifted singer and encouraging her to follow her dream and try out for the lead in the school musical is not teaching her superiority. It’s teaching her to use her gifts, along with a lot of rehearsal time, to obtain something she desires. It’s providing her with an opportunity to either succeed and experience the payoff of hard work or fail and learn that her world doesn’t end because she tried and did not achieve her ultimate goal.
However, if you react to your daughter’s failure by dropping out of the P&C and attacking the musical director, you are teaching a very different lesson. You are teaching her that she should have won the part, not through her own merit, but because your status in the school entitles her to it. That is the problem behavior. Think conservative politicians, raised in wealth, elected because of wealth, who feel entitled to judge the plight of the poor.
And then, because it might be useful, think about yourself as a parent. If you are the kind of parent who angrily protests your child’s every failure, this should be an easy one — stop it. And then, for the rest of us who do try to instil strong measures of self-confidence and empathy, think if perhaps there is a more subtle way in which we promote entitlement in your children. Even if it is not egregious enough to create a narcissist, our children will benefit if we stop.