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Social media can fuel delusions of grandeur

A reader worries about how parents can stop their children from developing over-inflated egos

QUESTION:

I was listening to a philosophy podcast about narcissism and thinking it is becoming far more common. I wonder what it will be like when my children are teenagers.

What we can do to instil healthy pride without swinging to either vanity or narcissism?

I’m supposing I can set a good example from now on and that my language and actions will influence the development of healthy pride in my children. But I shouldn’t be expecting signs of understanding at a young age and it is normal to see themselves as the centre of the world.

What practical steps can parents take?

ANSWER: 

In children, narcissism can manifest as seeing other children as being beneath them, being unable to properly deal with criticism, having a belief that they are infallible and an inflated sense of their self-importance and capabilities.

The causes are complex and not fully understood but parenting practices and the explosion in social media are believed to be relevant.

Learning the world does not revolve around them is part of normal development. Problems can emerge when children receive excessive praise, overindulgence and admiration that is not balanced with realistic feedback. It is important to refrain from excessively praising a child’s looks, behaviour or talents. Children who receive too much praise or attention will develop an unrealistic view of themselves, and children who don’t receive enough will find inappropriate ways to overcome that lack of attention.

In order for a child to develop a realistic self-view, he or she must receive approval from parents, caretakers and peers in balanced doses. Some experts suggest it is better to tell a child they are loved than to say they are special, to better prepare them for the inevitable challenges when they are not treated as special.

Where children are not appreciating what a parent is giving them or doing for them (at all) and are acting increasingly spoiled this may necessitate saying no and limit-setting.

Expecting children to show respect and contribute to the wellbeing of others can influence a child’s development, including empathy.

Concerned parents should talk to their GP about a possible referral to a child psychologist, if needed.

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