On Raising Narcissistic Kiddos…

Note: On on January 11, 2009 I began facilitating a parenting class for DaySpring, the church I attend in Waco.  I’m going to be offering some of what I’m doing there in this space over the Spring.

The class has now moved into a time of discussing the particular parenting issues that the participants want to address.  We’ll be discussing the challenges that each parent brings and then ask something like, “What would Foster do?” (WWFD?).  We fully expect that, in one month from now, everyone will be reporting that an incredible calm has descended and that the children will all be polite, well-behaved, and reading Ralph Waldo Emerson poems.

So, I’m going to use this blog to throw some random ideas out there to keep everyone thinking.  For instance, this week I’d like to direct you to a blog entry by The Last Psychiatrist titled Are Schools Breeding Narcissism?

Readers rag on TLP for finding narcissism under every rock and behind every tree, and we all know that if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything is going to look like a nail.  Yet, TLP consistently offers keen insight into a question that the ACT therapy people also raise: How is it that we humans have turned out to be the only animals on the planet who can have all their basic needs met, and yet still be remarkably miserable?

Here are a few excerpts from Are Schools Breeding Narcissism? (I’m the one who has added bold to some of the lines in order to reveal my narcissistic need to point out to you what you should be paying attention to – or is the proper grammar “to which you should be paying attention?”)

The kids didn’t sign up for the self-esteem classes because it was pass/fail and fit in 3rd period.  Adults made a collective decision that this was going to be the core educational philosophy from which everything else would be derived.  So?  What did adults think was wrong with the way they were raised that they thought self-esteem was so important?

…the real problem is the cultural mindset that thought up self-esteem training– and a million other things.  Even if we stopped promoting self-esteem in schools, the kids are still going to have to watch TV created by these same adults; learn about other cultures from them; learn how to manage money from them; learn that the worth of the individual from them; learn whether killing is right or wrong, and when, from them.  Not directly from them, of course, which would actually be a dialogue worth trying out; but by osmosis, from living in the world that adults have created for themselves, that kids have no choice but to live in.

Here’s an example.  I’m down at the playground stalking pedophiles, and I observe that all of the kids are there with a parent, and most of them are with both of their parents.  The parents are actively playing, too, they’re not just sitting on the benches socializing.   Wow, I think, there are actually more parents than kids on this playground.  My parents would never have played with me/us like that.  If they actually came (they never would have) they would have sat on the benches.  Socializing.  …  But they are so physically close to each other that it is visibly weird that they are not talking to each other; they must each have made a conscious decision not to interact.  And then, it hits me: the reason these parents are playing with their kids and not on the benches is in order not to interact with the other parents.  They’re using their kids as human shields.   They don’t know how to have a personal but not intimate interaction with another adult, they can’t figure the boundaries.  All they know is stranger, friend and sex.  All they know are roles.

Self-esteem training is besides the point: how are kids going to not become narcissists when their parents train them on purpose to avoid meaningful interactions with strangers?

…the focus on children’s self-esteem is the mechanism by which the parents protect themselves.  If my kid is happy, then I have a happy kid; I don’t have to do anything.  It’s the parents who feel entitled- to having a happy kid.

Any thoughts?



About Wes Eades

I've been a pastoral counselor, marital therapist, and overall listening ear since about 1989 or so.
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2 Responses to On Raising Narcissistic Kiddos…

  1. Leigh says:

    I think that, for my generation of parents, our children have become our gods. We are so obsessed with the right school, the right sporting event, the right leadership development activities because we are determined for our kids to be popular and successful. For some idiotic reason, we believe that these are the pathways to happiness. What I have been challenged to pray for my boys is for their relationship with Christ – NOT for their happiness. The hard part is that to pray for their passionate pursuit of the Father means that I must accept that hardship and heartache are part — a LARGE part — of that process.

    I agree with you: that to simply desire happiness for our children, and to pour all our efforts into creating happiness for them is surely one of the cruelest things we could do for them, and definitely the surest way to raise them into narcicistic adults.

  2. wmeades says:

    You make some great points Leigh, and I’m intrigued by the dilemma you describe… how easy it is for our children to become idols for us… that we can only be happy if our kids are happy…

    I’ve wondered if this could be due to an odd twist in the dna, especially for moms. The survival of species requires that mothers be completely wrapped up in the survival of their children, but in our culture survival is not the issue its been for all previous generations. So perhaps that impulse gets bent toward wanting our kids to be happy.

    For most of us it takes a very intentional, and deeply spiritual decision to keep our kids off of the idolatry throne. I

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