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Distracted by the Mirror

narcissism

photo credit: Jenn Durfey via photopin cc

Do you remember the character in Greek mythology, named Narcissus? He was the handsome man who, because of his indifference and disdain toward others, was punished by the gods by falling in love with his own reflection when he looked into the water. He was infatuated with his own image. He was so enraptured by his beauty that he was unable to pull himself away from his reflection and wasted away and died.

On the other hand, his spirit lives on in America today. Especially among students.

Narcissism is on the rise in kids today. One study found that 30% of young people were classified as narcissistic, according to a widely accepted psychological test. That number has doubled in the last thirty years. Another study reported a 40% decline among young people in empathy, a personality attribute inversely related to narcissism, since the 1980s. In nationwide reports, it takes teens longer to get ready in the morning than at any time since we’ve been studying this topic. They are distracted by the mirror.

TV psychologist Dr. Drew performed a study of celebrities and found them to be even more narcissistic than the general population. (Are you surprised?) What’s funny is—the celebrities most prone to Narcissistic Personality Disorder were female reality TV stars! More than talent, it’s likely their narcissism drove them to be stars. According to psychologist Dr. Jim Taylor, another fascinating study was just published exploring the changes in music lyrics over the past three decades. The researchers found a significant shift toward lyrics that reflect narcissism (“I” and “me” appear more often than “we” and “us”) and hostility (change from positive to angry words and emotions). And these findings aren’t just due to the increased popularity and influence of hip-hop music (which is known for its aggrandizement of the artists and its venom), but rather are evident across musical genres.

All of this is cultivating a generation of kids who are enamored with themselves. They have a false sense of who they are. No doubt, we want our children to possess a healthy self-esteem; a sense of self-love. Sadly, their condition is now bordering on unhealthy. We are setting teens and twenty-somethings up for a fall as adults. And now, it’s time to act, as mentors and teachers in their lives.

Steps We Can Take

If you see signs of this in the kids or students you lead, consider the following:

  1. Talk about this topic. Share the statistics from this blog. Discuss how narcissism impacts their generation. Do they see it?
  2. Work to equip them to see the role they play in the bigger picture. They play a role in history, but they may not be the “star” of the story.
  3. Visit the homeless or families who live in poverty. Help them see those less fortunate. This can diminish their sense of entitlement.
  4. Talk about the song lyrics in popular music today. How does it play into self-absorption and self-pleasure.
  5. Help them get involved serving the community around them. Participating in meeting the needs of others is the quickest way to overcome selfishness.
  6. Discuss limiting their time in front of the mirror or in front of shows that foster narcissism and self-absorption.

What have you observed? What steps would you add to this list? Let’s make it helpful to all kinds of problematic scenarios.

7 Comments

  1. Brad on March 28, 2013 at 5:37 am

    Nope. This does not surprise me.

  2. Ah3 on March 28, 2013 at 7:42 am

    As a teacher in an affluent area, I see that parents also feed this problem. They make their whole lives about their children. Helicopter parents add to the problem by never letting kids experience failure. Ironically, when parents do this, kids never develop authentic, healthy self-confidence that comes only through experience and perseverance and eventually wisdom and self- reliance.

    • Tim Elmore on March 28, 2013 at 10:00 am

      I am thankful for teachers like you who see the problem and lead students to appreciate life away from the mirror.

  3. Dawn on April 1, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    I am regularly telling my kids that “life does not revolve around” them. I see parents that will drop everything to meet every tiny little whim of their kids – the result is selfish, self-absorbed kids who will never mature into productive adults.

    • Tim Elmore on April 2, 2013 at 3:50 pm

      Thanks for the post, Dawn! I’m encouraged by your commitment to teaching humility in your home.

  4. Lori on April 3, 2013 at 11:23 am

    I’ve noticed how the posts of (mostly teens and twenty-somethings) friends on Facebook are increasingly photos – and more photos – of themselves. As a teacher, I continually see kids holding their cellphones out to take photos – again – of themselves. I agree with you, but feel like their parents have made them feel like they were the center of the universe since they were born!

    • Tim Elmore on April 3, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Lori. Let me assure you that your influence in the classroom matters! Continue to create an environment where humility is valued.

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Distracted by the Mirror