Knights, Not Narcissists

Scott Farrell comments:

“Every parent sees their son as a young hero, and their daughter as a darling princess. Yet perhaps it’s no wonder, in an age when parents are under increasing pressue to indulge their kids’ every wish — with fancy parties, expensive toys, designer clothes and a constant stream of verbal praise — that these youngsters are growing up oblivious to the values of chivalry, like patience and helpfulness. With all the best intentions, parents maybe raising a generation of princes and princesses, focused on “me,” instead of knights in shining armor.

Narcissism (the indulgent worship of self) is definitely not part of the values of chivalry — as the Greek legend of Narcissus, who spent all his time admiring his reflection, shows in the painting at the top of this page.

A recent article in the San Diego Union Tribune addressed this trend in narcissism and the unfortunate effects it may be having on our culture. Columnist Jennifer Davies explored some simple but effective methods parents can use to instill a healthy sense of compassion, humility and self-restraint (all important elements of the Code of Chivalry) in children and teens. It’s an important reminder, for parents and non-parents alike, that someone who is a knight doesn’t demand the “royal treatment.”

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Chivalry as an antidote for the culture of “me”

PrincessJean Twenge is convinced there is an epidemic gripping the nation – a rise in narcissism among young people, especially among girls. A professor of psychology at San Diego State University, Twenge has spent years researching the increase in narcissistic behavior, such as seeking special treatment because of an inflated sense of self-worth. She attributes prevalence of narcissism to such societal forces as the Internet, celebrity culture, easy credit and parenting.

She readily acknowledges it’s nearly impossible to shield children from many of the outside influences. But Twenge, co-author of the just-published book Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, said there is still plenty modern parents can and should do to ward against raising self-centered and self-important children.

Praise only when true

Don’t say your kid is a fantastic artist, dancer, sprinter and so on, if he’s not, Twenge says. Those types of compliments are hollow and give a child an inflated sense of self and ill-placed confidence. Twenge says parents think this kind of praise helps build self-esteem. But the reality is most kids already have goodly amounts of self-esteem, so there’s no need to bolster it with unwarranted praise. Remember, praising your child as special is different from telling your kid you love him. “Telling you love them creates a bond,” Twenge says.

Kiss the princess stuff goodbye

Even though little girls are seemingly hard-wired to fall in love with all things princess, Twenge advises caution. Don’t buy rhinestone-embellished shirts that say Little Princess or Diva, she counsels. “If your daughter is the princess, you are not the queen. You become her subject, obeying her every wish,” Twenge says. She said princess dress-up is fine because it encourages imagination, but try to avoid treating your daughter, or your son for that matter, as royalty.

Keep control

Today, Twenge says, too many parents are too permissive and give kids too much power. Parents need to say no and mean it. Do not give your children veto power over things like bedtime or other required activities. “You have to realize you are not going to make them happy every moment of the day,” she says.

Teach empathy

Twenge says too many parents teach kids that they need to look out for No. 1 and that their needs should come first because that’s the way to succeed. Not only does it create narcissistic thinking, but it also sabotages the child in the long run, she says. If a child becomes the kind of person who thinks that no one else’s needs or opinions matter, she will have a hard time maintaining lasting relationships at home and at work. “You should care what other people think of you. If other people think you’re a jerk, that matters,” Twenge says.

This article was originally published in the April 25, 2009 Parenting 101 column of the San Diego Union Tribune.

© 2009 Jennifer Davies

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