Postmodern Parenting Worry of the Week: Are You Raising a Narcissist?

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Sorting through the daily influx of press releases that journalists like me face whenever they brave their inbox, this one caught my eye: “Are You Raising a Narcissist?”

Having an only child makes me constantly on alert for signs that we’re spoiling, coddling or otherwise crippling him through our well-intentioned parenting, so I read the release with interest.

“Do you blog about your children?” it asked. Yes. Professionally.

“Do you share photos and information about them over Facebook and Twitter?” Um, yes.

“You may be raising a narcissist,” the release decreed.

Uh oh.

Not only do I do the normal mom stuff, posting cute photos and heartwarming achievements (none of them, I hasten to say, have ever been potty-related), but my risk factors for raising a narcissist are compounded by my job: I write about parenting and family travel for magazines and websites (like this one) that often include first-person experiences with my son.

The kid has had his picture in so many newspapers and magazines, including national ones, that when people comment on it, he just shrugs and says, “Yeah, that’s what my mom does. I’m used to it.”

But I am not so naive that I’m going to call my lifestyle into question over the first three sentences of a press release. I’ll wait until sentence five or six to rush to judgment. First off, who or what is this press release touting? Turns out, it’s for psychologist Larry A. Bugen‘s new book, “Stuck on Me, Missing You: Getting Past Self-Absorption to Find Love.”

The Austin-based Bugen, who has 30 years of experience in marriage counseling, asserts that well-meaning parents who broadcast their children’s achievements, photos and milestones online could be setting them on a path to self-absorption and failed relationships later in life.

Here’s Bugen’s explanation, as seen in the press release: “Studies show that 81% 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.'”

What’s harmful about that online image? It’s incomplete: It shows only the good parts of our kids, the release posits. “When did you last see a parent blog, tweet, or post that their child didn’t make varsity soccer or failed a chemistry exam? Instead, we surgically suture together a perfect family image within which we narcissistically attempt to prove our worth through our kids’ lives,” it reads.

The release goes on to explain that “once children become accustomed to being ‘featured’ within cyberspace, they develop a hunger for more. The endless stimulation of the Web literally hooks older children, releasing ‘feel good’ brain chemicals such as Dopamine. Before we know it our children are getting high on themselves – on the very images that were originally shaped by their parents many years before.” Despite a flagrant misuse of the word “literally,” the release makes an interesting correlation: That our seemingly harmless sharing can lead to relationship trouble for our kids. To paraphrase Yoda, overzealous self-interest leads to self-absorption, self-absorption leads to narcissism, and narcissism leads to crappy relationship skills.

Do you find this assertion alarmist? Or is there some truth to it? Personally, I wouldn’t tweet that my kid flunked a test. It seems, well, mean. But I wouldn’t hide that information from my close friends, classmates’ parents or family. Is that potentially harmful to my kid in the long run? What are your thoughts about Bugen’s web-based narcissism theory?



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12 thoughts on “Postmodern Parenting Worry of the Week: Are You Raising a Narcissist?

  1. I guess it makes sense to some extent but I don’t know if I put as much stock into the getting high on themselves as I would the fact that they’re generally being raised by the “Me” generation who started their adult lives buying anything they wanted at the time they wanted it because they have a credit card. Perhaps the “Me” factor coupled with the web creates the narcissist.

    Personally, I Facebook about my kid but I also post when she gets on red in school (like yesterday). I never Tweet about her because I use Twitter to voice unpleasant thoughts about family and friends from Facebook that are not on Twitter. I blog about my kid but neither my husband nor my kid know that. Raising a narcissist? Maybe. At 7, she still hasn’t figured out she’s not supposed to interrupt conversations.

  2. I feel like I have to weigh in here too. I write about my four children in the weekly parenting column I write for our local newspaper and on this blog. I find the opposite to be true. Instead of feeling superior, they’d rather not be mentioned at all.

    The older kids have banned me from using their pictures and I have to pay my youngest two a dollar for each time they appear in a picture with my column. It quickly went from being an honor to being a pain, when teachers and friends constantly say, “I saw you in the paper…”

    And as far as all of us sharing pics of our kids on facebook and social networking….how is this any different from the photos we carry in our purses and the photo albums grandmas show around the neighborhood, bragging about their grand kids?

    I love social networking, in part because it lets people filter what they want to see. I post pics and if they dont care to sift through them, they dont have to. I’m not offended and they are not harassed by pics they don’t care about.

    And I dont know who the author of the article is friends with on Facebook, but plenty of my facebook friends who are moms post about their kids messing up. Sure we all brag about the good stuff, but there are plenty of posts that say, “Kid is driving me crazy today” or “bummer, we didn’t get the college he really wanted..”

    Post on, my friends! I love seeing pictures of your kids (esp the babies!) and hearing about the fun stuff you are doing!


  3. You may hate me for saying so but I’m pretty sure blogging professionally about your kids is right up there with forcing their entry into pre-teen beauty pageants.

  4. I’m with Judy; I don’t see how posting pics of your kid(s) on FB is any different from carrying them in your wallet and showing them to your friends.

    And the idea that a kid’s identity is shaped by a parent blogging about him/her seems dependent on the kid in question poring over every word of mommy’s or daddy’s blog. Is that really happening?

    The online stuff is not the problem. Bugen’s concerns come back to the problems with the current parenting style of overpraising every tiny accomplishment and sweeping away failures, instead of handling things in a balanced, reasonable way. (I’m sure I’m guilty of that myself; it’s insidious.) If parents are doing that in person, the online offshoot of that is just a tiny piece of the bigger issue.

  5. This makes no sense. There are approximately 2.2 billion children in the world and 81% is 1.782 billion children. Sorry, I’m sure this a great point attempting to be made, but if the stats are wrong, I can’t get past that. Using statistics (incorrectly) to influence me is the same as lying to me. I don’t appreciate the exaggeration so the point is taken with a grain of salt.

  6. LOVING this discussion.

    I’ll start by saying that over the years I’ve become MUCH more careful about my blogging/Facebooking/Tweeting about my kids. I’ve even backed off on using their full names, instead referring to them as “J” and “T” or “my oldest son” or “my youngest son”.

    My Mom — who is NOT internet savvy, but has a survival-level ability — had mentioned to me years ago something to the same effect as this article. That my kids might get “full of themselves” if they see their achievements posted on the internet. This was in response to a video I’d posted of my kids on You Tube. Performing in a preschool singing program, I think.

    My intent had never been necessarily to brag about my kids, but more as a way to share their growing up with the family (since we’re a military family far from our extended family). Over time I’ve discovered that my blogging has become a journal of my parenting and military spouse journey.

    I have to admit, I haven’t really blogged about the bad news stories about my kids. Maybe a little about my son’s potty training, and my older son’s GeekSpawn “bullying” phase (worth a GeekMom post in itself, actually). But I don’t think the assertion is totally full of garbage. It’s worth reflecting about how much of our kids should be “out there”…

  7. Like Judy said– how is bragging online REALLY different than bragging in person? Especially if you consider that it IS so widespread– to the kids, being mentioned on Facebook isn’t FAME, it’s just what everyone’s mom’s doing. (And yes, I’ve seen plenty of complaining-about-the-kids online, too).

    I’ve actually wondered more about the effect of digital photography on kids’ self-concepts– my kids always love looking at whatever pictures or videos I just took right away. Years ago, little kids had no way to see themselves in action (let alone right away and over and over again). I’m not saying it’s bad or good, but it’s different and must be shaping their self-perceptions SOMEHOW, and I’ve often wondered how.

  8. I’ve been having this debate with an ‘addicted’ internet/gadget guy recently. He told me he would ‘panic’ if he wasn’t ‘plugged in’. That was a rather eye-opening admission. He also freely admits he has narcissistic tendencies. No joke. Almost every sentence starts with ‘I’ …

    The trouble here is not so much HIS problem, but how THIS problem writ large WILL be absorbed by children under his care, short and long term. Kids still LEARN by watching/doing what their ‘elders’ do.

    ‘Social skills’ are acquired and developed in ‘real life’ complex interactions with other living beings, not through isolating typing – augmented by visual & audio aids. Teaching our kids to type BEFORE they know and UNDERSTAND civil discourse, ie. “please” & “thank you”, is putting the cart before the horse and asking for trouble.

    The truth is we really have NO IDEA how this ‘new technology’ will impact on the next generation.

    How did t.v. impact ‘us’?
    Where are the studies? the analysis?

    There’s not much PUBLIC DATA at all out there about tell-a-vision. Trust me, I’ve been LOOKING. Yet, regardless, we merrily barrel along, somewhat oblivious to how our own generation has been SHAPED by MEDIA – not our mothers – over the past 50 years …

    We ARE the First PLUGGED-IN generation.
    What comes next is anyone’s GUESS …

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