Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Review: The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D. Free Press, 2009.
If you've noticed that children these days seem less polite and more bratty, and that people in general just seem to be more full of themselves -- according to this book, you're right! The Narcissism Epidemic is full of studies and statistics that confirm that we Americans are selfish, indulged, and spoiled. And wow, these qualities aren't particularly admirable, nor do they turn us into productive, responsible citizens. Instead they encouragement laziness and a sense of entitlement. I'm including myself here. Although I hope I'm not a complete narcissist, I'm certain that I'm spoiled, compared to most of the rest of the world. Simply living in America does this to us, since so many aspects of American society encourage narcissistic qualities, including the self-esteem movement, celebrity worship, easy credit, and parenting that shies away from discipline. According to the author, even things such as having a Facebook page, or writing a blog are symptoms of our narcissistic culture. Look at me! See the pictures of my beautiful children! Read what I'm writing!
I found the chapter about self-esteem to be especially interesting. The self-esteem movement began when I was a child, in the 1970s, and I remember singing such songs as "I'm something special, I'm the only one of my kind." But the authors in this book say, guess what? You're not special! Get over yourself! Of course, as parents you think your kids are special, but too much emphasis on specialness and uniqueness not only encourages kids to be selfish and think the world revolves around them, but it actually discourages them from working hard to meet goals, and from feeling connected to other people or feeling part of a community. Wow. I've been trying to focus more on goals, hard work, and empathy as qualities that I want for my children, and this book has inspired me to do that even more. To stop saying general things such as, "you're so smart" and instead point out how hard the kids have worked to accomplish a goal. Or how polite they act. Or how nicely they treat a friend.
In closing, I want to share one sentence that really summarized the book for me: "We're not number one [the U.S.], but we're number one in thinking we are number one." Words to ponder.