Are We Raising Narcissistic Kids? And Is There an Antidote?

03/13/2015 01:30 pm ET | Updated May 13, 2015

In the 7th grade I had a mean ol' science teacher, Ms. Wagner. I liked science very much, but Ms. Wagner and I were like oil and water. One day, as I taped up a notebook with a mini scotch tape dispenser I'd brought from home, she came up behind me and without warning, snatched my scotch tape and declared it her's. Filled with self-righteous fury I stood up from my chair and loudly declared that she wasn't allowed to take my private property. I emphatically explained that I wasn't doing anything wrong, and all she had to do was tell me to put it away before taking it. I was immediately sent to the hallway and a note was sent home to my parents.

I feared notes home because I knew what would happen. My parents would not listen to my plight. They would undoubtably take Ms. Wagner's side without affording me the benefit of the doubt. Except in the most egregious occasions, my parents rarely went to bat for me with authority figures in my life. I suspected this was because they were also teachers and had their fair share of run-ins with self-righteous students interrupting their classrooms.

For a long time I resented them for not listening to me in these situations. I felt unheard, like what I thought and felt didn't matter. But now, because I am a parent, and life is full of contradictions, I am grateful for their decision.

As a parent, I see it all the time these days; on the playground, in our schools, during extra-curricular activities. More and more I hear the complaints about how little Suzie or Johnny Jr. has been maligned by this teacher or that coach for "no reason at all." More and more I see parents who stop at NOTHING to make sure their child has "the best" this or that, no matter what, even if it includes putting the family in debt.

And I'm guilty too. My daughter attends a specialized charter school. Who doesn't want the best for their child? Supporting our children, and giving them the best opportunities to succeed is what we all strive to do as parents.

*But if life is full of anything, it's contradiction, and in our efforts to support, and sacrifice to assure our children's success, we may be fostering narcissism.*

Recent studies show that young people exhibit more characteristics of narcissism than ever before, and the latest research would suggest that their narcissistic behaviors correlate with their parent's narcissistic behaviors.

But I hesitate to condemn myself or others for the natural instinct to defend and support our children. Because most of us have praised, pushed, extolled and exhaulted our children with the very best intentions of giving them a running start and fostering self-esteem. But clearly, some of us have failed. Some of us have created entitled, self-absorbed human beings who care a great deal about their own self-interests.

Researchers say the difference between a child with healthy self-esteem, and a child who is narcissistic is:

"I am special." = narcissism. "I am just as special as everyone else." = healthy self-esteem.

So how do we get our children to have a healthy dose of self-esteem, and not be self-absorbed little a-holes? Can we support and praise our children without them becoming entitled douchbags? Is there an antidote to narcissism?

Personally, I do believe there is, and it's called EMPATHY. It involves the "everyone else" part of the above equation.

Above the piano lessons and private school education, we need to teach them they are not alone in this world, and certainly, they aren't the center of it. Above taking their side in every argument or going to bat for them with the mean ol' baseball coach, we need to show them they are loved in spite of their failings, but also, that everyone else deserves that kind of love, too.

Children raised with a healthy dose of empathy and compassion are probably not going to become self-absorbed jerks who divert responsibility for their actions. Because constant blaming of others for poor results is a hallmark of narcissistic behavior.

The researchers say that the best way to foster healthy self-esteem is to tell, and show our children they are loved -- not because they are special, or talented, but because they are a human being... just like all other human beings.

My parents were right in taking Ms. Wagner's side in this minor event. I wasn't a special snowflake deserving of specialness and my self-righteous behavior was out-of-line. Maybe taking my mini-tape without warning wasn't entirely fair, but if life is full of anything MORE than it's full of contradiction... it is unfairness. Another valuable lesson for everyone.

As a parent, I too, will probably take the teacher's side. But I will always make sure my kid knows I still love them even when they mess up, perhaps, especially when they mess up. Because messing up is part of being human, and we all in this together.

This article was originally published on Mamapedia