Good news, parents of teenagers. A new study suggests there’s a sure-fire way of getting our teens to actually pay attention to what we’re saying:
Talk about how special they are.
They are full of something, alright.
Now, on the scale of shocking research findings, this ranks right up there with the ones showing us that men like drinking beer and watching sports.
But while it’s no surprise, it should be a concern, because further research also shoots down the idea that self-confidence is the key to success.
“The interesting thing about that belief is it’s widely held, it’s very deeply held, and it’s also untrue,” says U.S. psychologist Jean Twenge, co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic.
So what’s to blame for the state of narcissism in today’s youth?
First, let’s look in the mirror (if you can get your teen out of the way, that is). Parenting since the 1970s has been all about happiness and fulfillment for our children, to ridiculous extremes. We are, in short, praise crazy. (“Honey, your blinking is just amazing!”)
Second, social networking for teens is like free gas to drivers – a great idea in principle, but it leads to a lot of wreckage. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, they can share, 24/7, all kinds of masterful insights (“I am yawning right now”), in the earnest belief that everybody cares.
Ironically, the brief hit of self-esteem they get from Facebooking can lead to less self-respect, as it tends to produce more negative behaviours such as over-eating and over-spending. And as Dana Carvey said eons ago on Saturday Night Live, “Isn’t that special?”
Finally, our celebrity-obsessed culture teaches teens that they too can have fame and riches if they devote their lives to endless self-promotion. Who’s got time to help others climb out of poverty when there are sex tapes to be made and leaked?
(Mind you, maybe there is something to that strategy. According to the Journal of Sex Research, women working in “the adult entertainment industry” – a more ego-enhancing title than “skin flicks” – have higher self-confidence and a more positive outlook on life than the “average” female. Can’t wait to see high school counsellors steering girls with low esteem onto that career path.)
Pointing fingers, or course, won’t solve the problem. And giving teens the finger for their overdose of self esteem may make us feel better, but it won’t bring about change either.
No, the solution starts with a serious discussion with our kids about the reality of Life, and their place in it. Cancelling their Beautiful People membership – a website exclusively for people who think they are hot – might be helpful, too.
And while you’re at it, play Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me” in the background. They’ll undoubtedly miss the irony in the lyrics, but the title might be the best way to hold their attention.