THERE are countless things to worry about for parents when it comes to our children’s wellbeing -- whether they’re too fat or too thin, too bookish or not bookish enough, scholastically bright or far behind, ultra-aggressive or super-wimpy.
Now, just in case we mothers and fathers are in danger of getting smug, an expert is suggesting that we ask ourselves if we’re raising a narcissist.
“Do you blog about your children? Do you share photos and information about them over Facebook and Twitter? You may be raising a narcissist,” warns a news release promoting a book by Texas-based psychologist Dr. Larry Bugen.
Gosh, what was his first clue?
Bugen’s book is called Stuck on Me… Missing You: Getting Past Self-Absorption to Find Love. He says in the release, strangely aimed at me (cough), that these days, 81 percent of the world’s children have an “online presence” before the age of two. “That means that four out of five children have a projected image before they have personally shaped an identity.”
According to him, parents’ tendency to blog about their children’s achievements and assets is a sad reflection of our desperate need to bask in their reflected glory.
Now, this is nothing new. Anybody who’s read one of those mass Christmas mailings sent by proud elders about their little geniuses has seen this phenomenon up-close for years. There have always been parents who’ve draped their living rooms in their kids’ trophies and who can’t have a single conversation without reciting the accolades their progeny has received. Happily, they never twig to the fact that the acquaintance they’re bombarding has secretly pressed the virtual snooze button.
But these days, the playing field for childish ego-building is positively immense. YouTube, for one, provides doting parents with a potentially massive audience for even the least manually dexterous toddler’s Cheerio retrieval, and they blithely twitter about their sweet Cuddlebun’s every gas-induced smile. Self-absorption expert Bugen suggests that children eventually get addicted to both being bragged about by Ma and Pa in cyberspace and the Dopamine high the resulting public attention produces. “Before we know it our children are getting high on themselves,” says the release.
And let’s not discount their parental role models. These cocky little attention hounds are, after all, the offspring of parents who have stylish cards printed up so they can importantly exchange them with other mothers to arrange playdates. On a recent episode of some reality TV show-or-other, a woman dragged her daughters, aged about three and four, into the spa for “their first mani-pedi” with professionals. The kids were having none of it, and good on them. But if Mummy keeps it up, they’re sure to start thinking that having a poorly paid Filipino woman paint their finger- and toenails on demand is simply their regular due. How do you ever say “No” to a child you’ve raised to believe that other people’s luxuries -- even impossibilities -- are their necessities?
As the release points out, we adults routinely announce our most banal events and discoveries on Facebook, just in case somebody out there gives a damn. At the same time, we joyfully swallow the urging of the self-help industry to believe in ourselves and our limitless capabilities, no matter how much evidence there is that we shouldn’t. Exhibit A: Gwyneth Paltrow, once revered as an excellent actress but lately derided on Jezebel.com as a “tone-deaf … Marie Antoinette,” is looking to record her first full-length album. Exhibit B: Some of us actually get paid to blab endlessly about ourselves in newspapers – what kind of a scam is that?
Bugen claims firsthand experience of the perils of narcissism. He suffered under the care of a mother who was a “chronic narcissist,” whose suicide attempts, tantrums and manipulative behaviour rode roughshod over her family.
“As a psychologist, my concern is: when does a healthy interest in yourself start morphing into self-absorption and eventually into full-blown narcissism?” he asks in the release. He now believes the problem is the “greatest obstacle to successful marriage therapy.”
I tend to be highly skeptical of the claims of news releases, especially those that randomly appear in my email in-basket. But I have to admit that this guy makes a lot of sense, and I haven’t even met him or read his book. In a world of bloggers run amok, of personal information overload, of unchecked and unedited self-importance roaring around the Internet like a billion Hells Angels on crack, who calls “Halt” to the perpetually ego-inflated? It sure ain’t going to be most parents – frankly, we started it.
Remember the days when self-deprecation was a treasured norm, and boasting was seen as the height of bad taste? I do – barely. Bugen must look on those times fondly. It seems he’s developed a questionnaire to assess intimacy in a relationship that recommends six characteristics romantic partners nurture in themselves in order to topple the spectre of narcissism. Among them is humility.
What a nice, old-fashioned notion.