Educating the Over-indulged and Narcissistic Child
23 May 2017
A growing phenomenon in our schools as well as in our society is the focus on ‘self’ by students and a growing number of teachers. We now live with what could be described as a ‘me’ generation. The growth of social media where people report the most everyday events in their life, the number of ‘selfies’ taken and distributed, all indicate an inflation of people’s belief in their importance. Of course this is an over generalized description of a whole generation but there is a growth in self-centered behaviour and its extreme manifestation - narcissism.
The cause of this is commonly linked to modern parenting styles. We are urged to provide unconditional love, which is true but the mistake is translating unconditional love with unconditional feedback. Some kids receive constant praise from a significant adult usually a parent but can be others such as coaches or teachers, where they receive praise without deserving it. It is little wonder these kids expect to be the centre of attention no matter what they do.
We tell them they can be whatever they want which may well be motivated for the best of intentions but by doing so parents create a lot of damage to their children. In other places I refer to this as a form of abuse because they are denied the opportunity to become self-aware, resilient and sociably acceptable in society.
This modern parenting style is only one part of the creation of the narcissistic child. Modern media celebrates the idol child. In movies and television shows the rewards that are associated with young, smart children are for all to see. It is inevitable that any child will see the connection between doing what you want with getting everything you desire. There is no requirement for effort and no one but no one should get in your way.
Surprisingly there is another that develops in conditions that are almost the opposite described above. Children who grow-up in cold, depriving families receive inadequate validation and support about their behaviour and their need for love and attachment skews their development. They cope by repressing negative experiences which would exacerbate their chance of acceptance by developing grandiose ideas about themselves. The drive to present as perfect translates into their self-belief.
For teachers there are two problems. The first is the aggressive parents who attack any member of the school staff if they dare to deal out consequences for children’s inappropriate behaviour. The parents refuse to accept their child made a mistake because they ‘know’ he/she is perfect just like they have been telling them. Unfortunately they are denying their child the opportunity to become really self-aware.
The second is with the students, especially in the secondary years are more than ever focusing on themselves. Social media, especially Face Book is full of posed pictures of young men and women. Modern kids, with their mobile phones have seen an explosion of indulgent movie clips that are put out for all to see. However, the recent increasing trend of sex-ting, the sending of explicit ‘selfies’ to others is a practice that would have been unheard of a couple of decades ago. Instead of modesty, the belief you have some private life, these children place the most intimate information out in public. The danger of this behaviour is alien to them as they have a belief that everyone ‘loves them’ and besides there is a chance they might be the next ‘Kardashian’ – rich and famous!
So what to do? Teachers are being challenged more and more by the ‘entitled’ child and the following advice may help:
- Avoid taking battles personally – you are not responsible for the child’s behaviour but you are responsible for providing appropriate feedback and consequences. Keep in mind you may be the child’s only chance to become self-aware.
- Place responsibility on the student – always associate the consequence with the behaviour not the child. There is no value in referring to their ‘selfishness’ this makes the discipline personal - about the child, even if you know their self-belief drives that behaviour.
- Avoid extrinsic motivation – the worst thing you can do for children who ‘want it all’ is provide more opportunity for them to get more.
- Reinforce the benefits of community – get the whole class involved community service projects. Never under estimate the power of volunteering work. This will give these children another way to feel good about themselves.
- Educate families – this is not easy if the parents are the cause of the child’s narcissism. It is a productive tactic if it is done on a macro scale, which is the whole school believes in sharing, helping others, etc. the power of the group will at least make the enabling parents keep quiet even if they don’t stop the ‘abuse’.
Modern teacher’s work is hard enough and teaching children to be authentic should not be their responsibility but good teachers understand that until children have that genuine sense of their self, serious education is not an option for the child.