January 11, 2013

After watching two reports on NBC Nightly News and Fox News about the number of teenagers being described as narcissists, I thought it might be useful to talk about this as a new phenomenon that is causing problems with our children and the adults they grow into.

Listen to just about any parent talk about their children and you will hear a constant theme  — they want to give their kids everything they themselves did not have when they grew up. In the same conversation that same parent wrings his hands in despair and frustration wondering why his kids lack a good work ethic and why they think everything should be handed to them on a silver platter – oh, excuse me, make that a platinum American Express card.

Our kids are obsessed with celebrities, Facebook, Twitter and other all-about-me social media opportunities. We ask our kids what they want to eat, when they want to eat it, how they want it cooked. We put them in every sport, club, event and activity possible. We teach them to think first of litigation when wronged. Blaming others for everything.

We spend less time with them and more time making money to give them everything we didn’t have.

Most importantly, we don’t allow our kids to fail. 
We wire our kids to think that the world revolves around them.

Think back to the TV show, Little House on the Prairie. Ma and Pa made sure those kids knew they were loved and protected but they also made sure they took responsibility for their actions, worked hard by participating in household and outdoor chores, and ate what was placed before them.

I also think about my visits to Africa where I observed very young children sit still for hours waiting for parents. No crying, no fits. On a recent trip to Australia, I recalled a documentary about immigrant Africans whose families were falling apart after arriving in Australia. The fathers complained that in Africa, children know that the parents are in charge and the family works like a well-oiled machine. Since emigrating to Australia, the roles had reversed, throwing the entire family out of whack. Parents felt helpless and children felt powerful…budding little narcissists.

If you want to avoid raising a budding little narcissist, do the opposite of the list above.

About the Author

meganMegan Hunter is founder and CEO of Unhooked Books and Life Unhooked, a speaking, training and consulting company that provides a fresh perspective and approach to help companies and individuals identify and overcome the damaging behaviors of HCD’s – whether they are employees, customers, vendors, board members, or anyone in your life. Most importantly we help you ‘unhook’ from these peoples’ behaviors so that you can make the right, next decisions – cleanly and clearly. She is also the co-founder of the High Conflict Institute launched in 2007 with Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq., an internationally renowned expert in High Conflict Personalities. She has been the recipient of several awards including the President’s Award by the Arizona Family Support Council (2005), the Friend of Psychology Award by the Arizona Psychology Association (2006) and the Outstanding Contribution Award by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (2010). She is a volunteer in several organizations including a member of Tanzania Project and Vice President of Personality Disorder Awareness Network (PDAN). She holds a BA degree in business from Chadron State College and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. To contact Megan about speaking engagements or to gather more information, email megan@lifeunhooked.com



  1. […] Budding Little Narcissists (unhookedbooks.wordpress.com) […]

  2. Interesting observations of an existing problem indeed. That is, untill you reach your proposed solution at the end building on the idea that in the west only individual parents are to blame for the failure of raising their kids into ‘budding little narcissists’.and that the problem can simply be solved by inducing them to take up their parental responsibility and make some right personal choices.in raising their kids. For making these ‘right choices’ you refer them to go see the antique TV show, Little House on the Prairie again.

    For God’s sake Megan, if dealing with the causes of this issue would really be that simple as you forward to us, like if it involves some simple personal parental life style like choices, wouldn’t it then already have been solved by now?

    What about Hillary Clinton’s ‘village’ in the equation here? I.e. what about western society’s ‘conditions and circumstances’ in which these parents are raising their kids? Don’t these ‘conditions and circumstances’ very much set the stage for raising these ‘budding little narcissists’?

    And why do you actually think that the African parents did fine when they were raising their children in Africa, but as soon as they became immigrant parents in Australia their entire family was thrown ‘out of whack’? Didn’t they already prove to have taken up their parental responsibilities and to have made the right personal parental life style choices in Africa? So isn’t it then highly unlikely that the problem to be solved lies in them making the right personal parental life style choices? Isn’t the real problem much more likely lying in western societies’ setting, i.e. the ‘conditions and circumstances’ in which parents have to raise their kids with ‘budding little narcissists’ as the unintended outcome?

    If so, I can’t wait to hear from you in a next article Megan, what present ‘conditions and circumstances’ in our Western societies, i.e. what aspects in the western family climate, in your opinion should be opened up for scrutiny and change if we don’t want to end up with a new generation of – now still little, but later grownup – ‘budding narcissists’.

    That is ofcourse if you are really serious about the problem you are putting on the agenda here and I do take it you are.

    Peter Tromp

    • Hello Peter,

      Thank you for taking time to properly read my post and even more time to thoughtfully reply.

      First, I do not propose that parenting is the only cause of the rise in narcissism, although I do propose that it is a significant factor. Of course we have to look at genetic predisposition, the influence of society, i.e. television, social media, cyber-education, and the results of a litigious, fault-based society. I don’t suggest that budding narcissists come from a personal parental lifestyle choice. I suggest that parenting, from the very beginning, is one of the most important and influential factors in preventing children from developing malignant narcissism or furthering already underlying narcissist tendencies. If you haven’t yet, take a read of Dr. Jean Twenge’s title, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young American Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–And More Miserable Than Ever Before.

      The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reported a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health between 2000-2005 (reported 7/04, 4/08, 7/08) in which a significant percentage of the U.S. population, 21.52% suffers from personality disorders. The study reported that 6.2% have Narcissistic Personality Disorder and in the 20-29 age group that number increased to 9.4%.

      You asked, ‘what aspects in the western family climate, in your opinion should be opened up for scrutiny and change if we don’t want to end up with a new generation of – now still little, but later grownup – ‘budding narcissists’.’

      In my opinion, the western family climate would benefit by taking a look at what works as evidenced by research regarding long-term outcomes:

      – stop giving children everything and instead require them to earn their way, a proven factor in building self-esteem
      – provide children a validating environment, i.e. giving them attention for positive behaviors instead of negative behaviors
      – modeling and teaching flexible thinking, managing emotions, and moderate behaviors
      – modeling and teaching empathy (see below for mirror neuron research)
      – modeling and teaching selflessness instead of selfishness
      – secure attachments
      – don’t shelter them from failure
      – do shield them from parental conflict
      – do set limits so they feel secure and understand boundaries

      I’m interested in your take on this list. Thanks again for your input and insight. I enjoy the dialogue.


      Mirror neurons: The more we learn about the brain’s functions, the more we see the influence parent’s have on shaping children’s brains, thinking — their operating system. Recent research on mirror neurons tells us that babies are born with million of them. They give us the ability to learn through mirroring our parent’s and others’ behavior without us even knowing it. Empathy, a huge aid in managing and recovering from personality disorders, is thought to be learned through mirror neurons.

  3. Here we go again, and once again, I am in incensed by this relatively recent cry by my generation that our kids are narcissists.
    I don’t have the time to lay out a thorough response here and now, but as a mother, grandmother, teacher and child advocate, I feel that I must say something.

    What you are referring to is what each generation calls social change. Of course, the previous generations find another label because they don’t quite understand what they are seeing.

    Empowerment is good for the individual and society, and we have not come nearly as far as we need to. I’m sorry that you think that it is detrimental to society that our kids can’t sit still and quiet for long periods of time. I’m going to guess that you were one of those who could. I have worked for many years with middle school kids and the model is all wrong. And those who can conform to the model, that is sit still and quietly take notes are labeled “good” and those who can’t are labeled “bad.” But I digress.

    I work with amazing young people every day. Yes, they want progress. Yes, they think that our generation has made some big mistakes, although to their credit, most of them don’t point fingers. That’s because they love us, and, more than anything, they want our approval.

    Blaming our kids for expressing and experimenting with their new-found empowerment is counter-productive and even a bit mean-spirited. Yeah, I admit. I’m a bit jealous. My 70s teenage experience was pretty oppressive, and I had to fight pretty hard to experience every scarp of self-efficacy.

    So what do you say we embrace our kids. Let’s apologize to them for having not done a better job, and let’s support them as they prepare to handle the huge and complex issues that will face them throughout their lives.

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