Could telling your grandchildren they're perfect make them into narcissists?

Grandparents has a unique position in their grandchildrens’ lives. Unlike parents, they tend not to scold their children or be critical, instead praising every little thing they do and making them feel like the most special person on Earth. But could telling your grandchild how perfect and wonderful they are be making them into narcissists?

According to new research from the University of Netherlands, constant praise for childrens’ accomplishments (or non-accomplishments) may unintentionally create an enlarged ego – causing significant social issues later in life.

The authors of the study said, “Research shows that narcissism is higher in Western than non-Western countries, and suggests that narcissism levels have been steadily increasing among Western youth over the past few decades”.

Previously, the origins of narcissism were not well known – all that was known was that being narcissistic equated to mental health and aggression issues. To find out exactly what causes narcissism, Eddie Brummelman and his colleagues evaluated 565 Dutch children between the ages of  7 and 11, the crucial time where narcissistic traits are thought to reveal themselves. The children and their parents were given questionnaires that tested two opposing theories of narcissistic origins: one theory proposes that children develop narcissistic traits when their parents overvalue them, and the other proposes that narcissistic traits emerge in children whose parents fail to express warmth toward them. The questions in the quiz assessed narcissism, self-esteem of the children, warmth shown from parents, and the parents overvaluation of the child.

Children in the study were asked how much they agreed with statements such as “Kids like me deserve something extra” and “Kids like me are happy with who they are”. Parents had to answer statements about the value of their kids, i.e. “My child is a great example for other children”.

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Results showed that overvaluation of the children and not a lack of warmth, predicted that a child would have narcissistic tendencies, leading the study’s authors to believe that there is a real link. This means, if you tell your child or grandchild how awesome they are, they might not have good self-esteem – it will just make them narcissistic. If a child feels warmth from a parental figure, they’re more likely to have high self-esteem, not narcissism.

Co-author of the study, Brad Bushman, said “People with high self-esteem think they’re as good as others, whereas narcissists think they’re better than others. Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others. That may not be good for them or for society”. Do you agree?

Narcissism is a growing problem in our society and it has its roots in children. Study author Eddie Brummelman told Forbes that narcissistic children feel superior to others, believe they are entitled to privileges, and crave for constant admiration from others. “When they fail to obtain the admiration they want, they may lash out aggressively. Narcissistic individuals are also at increased risk to develop addiction. Subgroups of narcissists, especially those with low self-esteem, are at increased risk to develop anxiety and depression”.

So what can we learn from this research? Perhaps that we should be careful not to praise for no reason. Or perhaps that even though our grandchildren are the light of our lives…we should remember that they need to learn from their mistakes and know right from wrong.


Tell us your thoughts today…do you hold your grandchildren on a pedestal? What do you tell them?