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You're way too good a parent to raise a narcissist or are you?
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Your kid may be the greatest ever born, but expressing that thought may create a self-centered monster. New research suggests that too much praise creates narcissism. - photo by Lois M. Collins
Your kid may be the greatest ever born, but expressing that thought could create a self-centered monster. New research suggests that too much praise can lead to narcissism.

According to a new international study by researchers at the University of Amsterdam and at Ohio State University, "Narcissistic individuals feel superior to others, fantasize about personal successes, and believe they deserve special treatment. When they feel humiliated, they often lash out aggressively or even violently.

"Unfortunately, little is known about the origins of narcissism. Such knowledge is important for designing interventions to curtail narcissistic development. We demonstrate that narcissism in children is cultivated by parental overvaluation: parents believing their child to be more special and more entitled than others."

Narcissism is not the result of too little parental warmth as some have speculated, they note, adding that warmth is important to forming a child's healthy self-esteem.

The research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers conducted four interviews with 565 children who were ages 7 to 11 at the beginning and with their parents, circling back to them every six months for a fresh survey. They wanted to be sure all the children were at least 8 years old partway through because children younger than that are naturally narcissistic.

According to background material from Ohio State University, the research showed that "parents who 'overvalued' their children when the study began ended up with children who scored higher on tests of narcissism later on. Overvalued children were described by their parents in surveys as 'more special than other children' and as kids who 'deserve something extra in life,' for example."

The researchers said that the belief narcissism is "just self-esteem on steroids" is wrong. "In this study, children with high self-esteem, rather than seeing themselves as more special than others, agreed with statements that suggested they were happy with themselves as a person and liked the kind of person they were."

People with high self-esteem think theyre as good as others, whereas narcissists think theyre better than others, said Ohio State University professor of psychology and study co-author Brad Bushman.

"These findings show that narcissism is partly rooted in early socialization experiences, and suggest that parent-training interventions can help curtail narcissistic development and reduce its costs for society," the researchers wrote.

"Perhaps we can develop a way to help parents convey affection and appreciation for a child without necessarily putting a child on a pedestal, without telling the child he is better than others," study lead author Eddie Brummelman, from Amsterdam, told the Washington Post.

"Beyond being annoying to friends and colleagues, narcissism is a trait that comes with a number of psychological and social problems, both in childhood and in adulthood, some of which can be serious," Forbes contributor Alice G. Walton noted.

Brummelman told her that narcissistic children feel superior to others, believe they are entitled to privileges, and crave for constant admiration from others. When they fail to obtain the admiration they want, they may lash out aggressively. Narcissistic individuals are also at increased risk to develop addiction. Subgroups of narcissists, especially those with low self-esteem, are at increased risk to develop anxiety and depression.

In August, a study in PLOS ONE suggested a simple, one-question way to tell if someone's a narcissist: Ask. Narcissists know and will admit it.

The Guardian reported the finding that men are more likely to be narcissistic, on average, than women. But in men, the trait can be taken as a sign of leadership. In women, it's not viewed with as much tolerance.