Self Esteem for Children vs. Narcissism

The generation of young people born between 1982 -2004 is being referred to as the “Entitled Generation”.  The world they are facing as they approach adulthood is hardly one that will continue to foster this illusion.

The question being begged is “How was the attitude of entitlement fostered in so many?”  The answer I believe is found in part in the style of parenting that was popular during this time period.

In some families, parents believed that praise would give their child self esteem. This notion was supported culturally in team sports for young people when everyone received a trophy just for participating. Today we can still see it when we hear adults proclaiming “Good job!” for every thing a child does. How is this helpful?

The overabundance of material goods have created false expectations for the future. Children that didn’t have a chance to earn items never learned that effort was required for their attainment. Introducing money to children at an early age and the ability to earn it has many lessons that will serve them well.

If the primary job of parenting is to prepare the young to become a fully functioning human being, then we might say that the parents of this generation despite their efforts to parent well, have missed the mark. Understanding how to nurture true self esteem and support a growing independence in your child is not the simplest of tasks to perform.  Today more than ever maturity and independence appear to be delayed. In part it is due to the economic downturn that has many young people feeling hopeless about their career prospects. The combination of a sense of entitlement and a difficult economy are a bitter pill.

Recently on NPR on the show “All Things Considered” Brad Bushman a Professor of Psychology and Communication at Ohio University was interviewed about this topic. He stated that in the last thirty years among college students, narcissism has risen and empathy has shown a marked decrease.

In comparing narcissism to self esteem there are obvious differences.


The psychological explanation of narcissism says that it refers to a syndrome characterized my an exaggerated investment in one’s own image vs. one’s true self.  How one appears  is more valued than how one actually feels. There is also a tendency to behave in manipulative ways and to sacrifice integrity for ego gratification.

Healthy self esteem refers to realistic and accurate positive appraisals of the self and ability to cope with the inevitability of negative feedback.

The following is excerpted from an article on and describes High Self Esteem,  Low Self Esteem and how parents might help.

Characteristics of High Self Esteem

  • enjoys interacting with others
  • comfortable in social settings
  • likes group as well as individual activities
  • works toward solutions when challenges arise
  • can voice discontent without belittling self or others
  • will take risks and try new things
  • self knowledge of strengths and weaknesses is evident
  • optimistic

Characteristics of Low Self Esteem

  • won’t try new things
  • says negative things about themselves
  • shows discouragement and display of inadequacy
  • temporary setbacks seem permanent
  • pessimism
  • low frustration tolerance
  • gives up easily
  • waits to be rescued of for someone to take over
  • overly critical and disappointed in themselves

Ways Parents Can Help:

  1. Be careful of what you say.
  • Recognize effort not just the outcome
  • Be truthful but encouraging

( You fell off your two wheeler but you didn’t give up.

Pretty soon you will know how to do it.)

  • Share your own challenges.
  1. Be a positive role model.
  • Cultivate self acceptance and tolerance for your limitations
  • Express your feelings constructively
  1. Identify and redirect inaccurate beliefs
  • Its important to identify inaccurate beliefs whether its about perfection, ability or attractiveness or anything else
  • Help children set realistic standards and be realistic in their self evaluation
  1. Be spontaneous and affectionate
  • Share a hug and loving touch
  1. Give positive, accurate feedback
  • Recognize growth and effort
  • Offer encouragement honestly and consistently
  1. Create a safe loving home environment
  • children become depressed with a sense of helplessness if abused or in a home where parent’s often fight
  • seek counseling if needed
  1. Help kids become involved in constructive experiences
  • activities that encourage cooperation rather than competition help foster self esteem and a sense of community
About The Author

Lois Olson

Founder of The Montessori Children's House Inc. Laramie, Wyoming Montessori Primary Certification 1973
Systematic Training for Effective Parenting facilitator certification
Thirty eight years of experience working with children ages 3-6
Twenty five years facilitating parenting groups
Ten years facilitating teacher training
B.A In Psychology

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