2. SELF-CENTERED KID? Real #Parenting Solutions to Troubling Youth Trends Series

by | Sep 20, 2009 | The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

Michele Borba

This week I’m focusing on a few troubling youth trends that research shows are hitting our kids at younger ages and at more intense. Yesterday was Stress-Out and the solutions to fix it based on science-based parenting. My second youth concern: the dawn of the self-centered kid. Psychologist, Jean Twenge calls them “Generation Me.” And watch out–they are sprouting in multiples.

Read carefully: There is no gene for spoiled and two out three parents even admit their kids are spoiled. We have no one but ourselves to blame. Need proof?

  •  Narcissism among college kids rose just from 2006. A San Diego State University survey of hundreds of teens conducted over the past decades found that two thirds of college kids had an  above-average score in narcissism compared to thirty percent. in 1982
  •  Eighty percent of people think kids are more spoiled now than 10-15 years ago

Believe me,  self-centered kids are not only not fun to be around. But studies also show they are lower in empathy, respect and compassion and are less happy and more likely to be depressed. 

So what’s going on? Why the rise in youth self-centeredness? One reason is that the research on self-esteem has been misinterpreted by parents. What we think will raise our children’s self-worth actually does the opposite. 

The Old Parenting Approach

The old parenting belief was that self-esteem was fostered by constant praise and inflated accolades that boosted individual specialness. We parented our kids more as pals, and were afraid to say no. We focused on ME less on we. We didn’t want our kids to be unhappy or to fail so we rescued them from any mistake and gave them a trophy or a certificate for every little scribble (whether deserved or not). 

Our intentions are good (after all, we love our kids to death) but they didn’t give us the results we’d hope. Instead of well-behaved kids who appreciate the little things in life we have more self-centered children who want “more.” And instead of kids who feel good about themselves we have amongst us a group of youth who are much-loved but also sad.

One in 12 of our kids will face a serious bout of depression during their adolescent years.

The Better Approach

So what’s a better parenting approach? I say let’s look to the research. If we want emotionally strong kids than let’s follow the research.

As I wrote The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, I combed  new child development research and compiled real solutions that were both proven and practical. Here are just three studies that are critical for you to be aware of and just a few of the top parenting solutions that do work to reduce self-centeredness and boost compassion and strong self-esteem:

The New Science-Based Parenting Approach 

• Praise effort not smarts.  Praise does work but only if it is specific, earned, and stresses effort not smarts. Columbia University found that praise that stretches achievement, attention span, ability to bounce back and persistence (confidence boosters) focused on effort “You’re work hard!” not IQ. “You’re smart.” So stress your child’s effort and the process but don’t praise your child’s intelligence. Carol Dweck’s incredible research found that doing so actually squelches your child’s persistence. His mind set becomes: “Why bother. I don’t have much control over how things turn out. It’s all wrapped up in that genetic code.” But if you switch your words to stress your child’s effort he realizes he has control over his grade or score and he’ll work harder. He will also be more likely to bounce back if he fails. 

Don’t be afraid to say no. UCD 7 year study found kids higher in self-esteem were raised in homes warm and accepting, listened to and-contrary to “conventional wisdom,”-in less permissive environments with clear, fair rules that were consistently enforced. That structure boosted security and fostered children’s self-esteem. Lesson: Don’t feel guilty about saying no. You’re actually doing your kid a favor. Here’s a quick parenting test you can do as soon as you finish reading this. Ask your kid one question: “What do we stand for in this house?” If your child doesn’t know, it means you’re not clear enough with your rules.

• Stretch ME to WE. It turns out that kids who do chores and service learning projects have higher self-esteem because there’s a huge rush when you know you’ve made a difference for someone (whether it be feeding the dog and seeing his tail wag or working in a soup kitchen and seeing the grateful smile when a homeless man gets his first meal. Self-esteem is really a combination of a feeling of “worthiness” and competent to cope with life” – make sure you are stressing both with your kids. 

Those are just three of the hundreds of research studies I uncovered as I wrote this book. My goal was to compile only the absolute best parenting solutions that raise strong, caring, responsible, and competent kids. But each of those solutions had to be practical and based on proven empirical research.

You can find dozens of practical ways to use these three studies with your kids as well as new habits to teach that will turn your child’s self-centered ways into thinking about others in The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. Just turn to Parenting Challenge called: Selfish and Spoiled on page 209 in the book to start applying those solutions to turn your kid’s self-centered ways around.  

The next blog I’ll take on another troubling youth trend.