It’s all about them

Gen Y college students are number one in narcissism, concludes a new study, “Egos Inflating Over Time.” Self-esteem has social costs, notes the Los Angeles Times.

People with an inflated sense of self tend to have less interest in emotionally intimate bonds and can lash out when rejected or insulted.

Researchers analyzed psychological surveys taken by more than 16,000 college students across the country, starting in 1982.

The Narcissistic Personality Inventory asks students to react to such statements as: “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place,” “I think I am a special person” and “I like to be the center of attention.”

Two-thirds of recent college students outscored the 1982 average; 30 percent of those tested in 2006 showed high levels of narcissism, though few heads were sufficiently swollen to rate a psychiatric diagnosis.

Some of the increase in narcissistic attitudes was probably caused by the self-esteem programs that many elementary schools adopted 20 years ago, the study suggests. It notes that nursery schools began to have children sing songs that proclaim: “I am special, I am special. Look at me.”

Those youngsters are now adolescents obsessed with websites, such as MySpace and YouTube, that “permit self-promotion far beyond that allowed by traditional media,” the report says.

Also blamed were “permissive parenting, increased materialism and the fascination with celebrities and reality TV shows.”

My daughter went through school at the height of the self-esteem frenzy. Every year, there were “I am Special” or “Student of the Week” or “Star Student” activities. She quickly figured out that being “special” wasn’t all that special. She does think that if she ruled the world it would be a better place. In her case, she’s right.

Update: Go to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s blog for a series of posts on self-esteem.

About Joanne


  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Thank God I’m not narcisistic. I’ above all that.

  2. Personally, a lack of modesty is my only real flaw – but I think I’ve gotten much better now!

  3. I guess I should be relieved that my two daughters — a senior at Bryn Mawr and a sophomoric sophomore at Otis — aren’t the only ones….

  4. Instilling kids with self-esteem – it’s the worst thing to do, except for all the other ways you could raise your kids.

    My dad’s guidance counselor said he would never graduate from high school. He ended up being an economist. And this is a story that repeated itself thousands of times. As they’re growing up, kids encounter so many miserable people who’ve failed in their own lives and want to rain on everyone else’s parade. Self-esteem keeps these negative influences at bay.

    This is the most-successful and competitive generation ever (UCLA took my mom out-of-state despite a C in Physics – think that would happen now?). Let’s give them a little credit.

  5. Cousin Dave says:

    SO what happens to people like this in the long run? What’s their prognosis?

  6. chances are they stay narcissistic. that;s what the Boomers did.

  7. This reminds me of my favorite line in the Incredibles…mom tells Dash, “Everyone’s special, Dash.” and he replies with, “That’s just another way of saying no one is.”

    I think the problem isn’t so much on telling kids they are special, but in eliminating anything that really develops a sense of purpose and accomplishment. There are no wrong answers, no games with losers, etc. Children scarcely have a chance to truly develop their natural talents and inclinations, but are told they are special when they just stay in the “herd.”

  8. The Incredibles borrowed that quote from somewhere else. It was actually: “Just remember you’re unique; just like everyone else”

  9. Well, there’s a difference in having self-WORTH (feeling you are fit to walk the surface of the earth, which everyone should feel) and self-CONFIDENCE (knowing you are good at something because you have objective outside proof).

    I don’t even like the word self-esteem any more; it has become so confounded and confused that it means virtually nothing.

    I have no problem with people taking pride in doing something well. The problem comes when people are told that every effluvium they produce is WONDERFUL and SPECIAL and is worthy of praise. We need to use a little discernment here – kids can see through it, or if they don’t, they turn into dangerous narcissists who are agonizingly hard to work with.

    There’s nothing wrong in praising kids for good work. But they also need to learn that in most adult careers, you don’t get praised for good work – you only hear it if your work is bad.

  10. Gabe,
    Did your dad’s academic performance dramatically increase between the guidance counselors comments and when he went to college? Also I bet if your mother’s physics class was graded on todays scale her grade would be a B+. People need truthful feedback to make choices about their lives.

  11. GradSchoolMom says:

    Keep in mind that the definition of Narcissism is a false belief in one’s self-worth. Narcissists are usually the least self-confident. That is the result of always being told you’re great when you know it isn’t true.

  12. I agree, Gabe.
    Dismissing of an entire generation is a slipery slope.

    How about all the young soldiers in Iraq?

    Some of them are using My Space too. So what? They need a little of their own space….

    And for everyone else perhaps My Space and the rest of the electronic self-expression is as much a response to a fragmented and alienating culture as it is a symptom of narcissism.

  13. Indigo Warrior says:

    These so-called narcissists, egotists, solipsists, etc. and other lone-wolf tribalists really need to have a good reading of Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness.



    There was a fundamental shift in education that happened a generation ago. Instead of being primarily interested in producing children who were well educated, the focus became a concern that children were well-adjusted and had the proper viewpoint on l…