Researchers believe that parents who “overvalue” their children by giving them too much praise while they are between the ages of 7 and 11 are more likely to have their children grow up to be narcissistic.
Researchers came to the conclusion after following and surveying 565 children between the ages of 7 and 11 and their parents, 415 mothers and 290 fathers. Both the children and the parents were surveyed over 18 months, answering questions such as “my mother lets me know she loves me” and “kids like me deserve something extra.” While the warmth of a parent did not affect a child’s narcissism, a small link was found at each stage between the praise a child received and how narcissistic they were six months later.
“When children are seen by their parents as being more special and more entitled than other children, they may internalize the view that they are superior individuals, a view that is at the core of narcissism,” the researchers wrote in a study released online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “But when children are treated by their parents with affection and appreciation, they may internalize the view that they are valuable individuals, a view that is at the core of self-esteem.”
While this may seem like an intuitive thought, previous research created the psychoanalytic theory, which actually suggested children became narcissistic as a result of their parents not giving them enough attention, writes Lenny Bernstein for The Washington Post.
This caused authors Brad Bushman of Ohio State University and Eddie Brummelman, a post-doctoral researcher at Holland’s University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University, to study the psychoanalytic theory by comparing it to the social learning theory that suggests learning comes through modeled behavior. Through their research, the pair discovered that children are learning to be narcissistic from their parents, who are teaching them the behavior by telling them that they are special. Parents who give their child attention and praise without suggesting they are superior to others tend to raise children with high self-esteem rather than creating narcissistic individuals.
The authors suggest that narcissism is not only a learned behavior, but could possibly also result from genetics. Some children could be more prone to being narcissistic than others.
In addition, the authors wanted to look into what separates narcissists from people with extremely high self-esteem. Narcissists have been shown to be more aggressive and possibly even violent toward others, in addition to showing a higher risk for depression, anxiety and drug addiction.
By the time children reach the age of 7 or 8, they are able to properly note whether they are happy with themselves and are also more likely to describe themselves in comparison to others. “It’s an age when they may be especially sensitive to parental influence,” added Brummelman.