The New Narcissists

Young People and Self-Esteem

You’ve heard of the Greatest Generation, but what about the Narcissistic Generation? Stay tuned to BreakPoint.

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Eric Metaxas

We’ve all heard the Greek myth of Narcissus, the proud young man who saw his reflection in a pool and fell in love with it. Narcissus was unable to break away from his own gaze, and eventually died by the side of the pool.

Sad to say, if one survey is correct, we may be raising a generation of young people who are succumbing to the terrible danger of unhealthy, delusional, and misdirected self-love.

The recently released American Freshman Survey finds a gaping chasm between students’ perceptions of their giftedness and drive to succeed, and the reality. For example, according to lead researcher Jean Twenge, today’s freshmen are much more likely to rate their writing abilities as “gifted” than their predecessors. But their test scores— and often their reading and writing abilities—are far below their 1960s counterparts.

Elisabeth Wilkins of Empowering Parents summarizes, “in the past four decades, students’ opinions of themselves have soared—even though test scores have gone down.”

This mental disconnect is only part of the problem.

Twenge says that narcissism in college students has risen 30 percent in 30 years. She defines narcissism as “a need to pump yourself up with praise and approval in order to feel okay.”

You could call the current preening crop of kids the Narcissistic Generation, but apparently it’s no fun to always be staring at your reflection in the pool. Twenge notes that anxiety and depression are on the rise among young adults, as well as failure to reach personal goals.

One business executive notes, “I’ve had new hires become irate when they’re not rewarded with all the goodies right away, but they don’t seem to understand that they need to put in years of hard work in order to achieve what they want in life.”

There are several reasons for this rising tide of narcissists. First is the cultural premium put on building up self-esteem—the idea that everyone gets a trophy just for participating, and no one gets critiqued on actual performance.

Another reason is the flood of social media and related technologies. Psychiatrist Keith Ablow has noted, “I have been writing a great deal over the past few years about the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities—the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories. Using computer games,” Ablow continues, “our sons and daughters can pretend they are Olympians, Formula 1 drivers, rock stars or sharpshooters. These are the psychological drugs of the 21st century, and they are getting our sons and daughters very sick, indeed.”

Wilkins of Empowering Parents suggests that we need to encourage in our kids “empathy, hard work, and more real-world, face-to-face interactions.” In addition, she says that we must help our children develop compassion and “do things that are worthy.”

I agree one hundred percent, and the church is a great place—or should be—to provide young people with clear models and solid, biblical teaching and encouragement on how they can develop the vision, faith, and humility that are required to live lives of true—rather than virtual—significance.

Newsletter_Gen_180x180_BAnd of course, we must be vigilant against nurturing a culture of narcissism in our communities of faith, shifting our gaze away from our own reflections and onto the Lord. We would do well to remember Jesus’ punch line to the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”


Further Reading and Information

BP-Takeaction_022513The New Narcissists
Young People and Self-Esteem: Take the Next Step

How can you help young people grow up and be truly happy, productive individuals? It requires more than education. It requires a genuine sort of self-confidence, found in understanding who God made them to be.

We must understand their generation - and be concerned about the survey Eric mentioned. Please take time to read the resources below and then turn to help the young people in your life.


CIRP Freshman Survey
Higher Education Research Institute

The Narcissistic Generation? More U.S. College Students Say They’re Superior
Elisabeth Wilkins | Empowering Parents | January 9, 2013

We Are Raising a Generation of Deluded Narcissists
Dr. Keith Ablow | FoxNews.com | January 8, 2013


Gone the Glory?
T. M. Moore | ColsonCenter.org | August 27, 2012

Empowering Parents



Is it me Jesus? :-/
What to do?
I believe Gdubya is absolutely correct about the cause of this narcissism: the educational system. I have been listening to the way students in public schools are indoctrinated for at least 20 years on Christian and conservative radio programs with horror. They are constantly told they are okay no matter how badly they score on tests; in fact, I don't think they even score them anymore! They don't score sports games either -- everybody wins. After all, we wouldn't want them to have their poor little self-esteem wounded. And then they wonder why we end up with a generation of narcissists.

The problem is, even if we fix the public school system tomorrow, what about the generation that has already been damaged by it? What do we do about them???
Please play this again, at least every hour.
Narcissism and Self-esteem
I had the privilege of hearing you speak last night in Lexington, KY at NorthEast Christian Church. Super job! Greg Horn is my best friend and Monte Wilkinson was in our wedding! Great guys and wonderful church!

Just a couple of comments regarding "The New Narcissists"...1) I've been working with and coaching boys and young men at every level from elementary to college and professional level for the past 26 years and this is a huge issue as our young men know very little about either real tenderness (true compassion) or real toughness (self-discipline) to deal with much of anything...jobs, finances, education and especially marriage/family relationships. As soon as it gets too 'emotional' or 'hard' they tend to bail! One of the worst results of this "new narcissism" is a nearly complete lack of Love or true commitment to anyone or anything (except themselves of course). I've believe this is due to the fact that we've replaced self-discipline with self-esteem and made them think, through our education system in which most have been indoctrinated, that we can just 'instill or give' this to them which is the farthest thing from the Truth - it must be earned and developed! IN reality you can only have self-worth (much more appropriate term than 'self-esteem' and actually only found in our relationship to something greater than ourselves...i.e., Creator/Redeemer) if you have self-respect. You only mature in self-respect when you practice self-control and you only develop self-control when you practice/choose self-discipline (the latter 2 actually being 2 sides of the same coin so to speak). Without self-discipline then you never really gain or earn self-respect or self-worth which really is not just for our good but allows us then to benefit others! 2) This is one of the key arenas where our boys and young men are being emasculated by our culture and even in our churches due to lack of self-discipline leading to true self-respect and self-worth! Sadly, some of the most frail and soft people in our culture are 'christian' young men! 3) Finally, if you haven't yet read John Rosemond's, "Parenting by the Book", dealing with many of these issues, I highly recommend it as I think you'd find it not only very good but also a very enjoyable read!

Btw - all three of my children really enjoyed your message last night as well (boys, 17 and 15 and girl, 13)!

Thanks again and have a great day in the Lord! God bless in Christ!

A comment might be made on the habit of having inspirationals tell people to "fulfill their dreams." The problem is that one person's dream is often incompatible with ten-thousand other people's and it can be darned depressing. I don't know how to solve it; not teaching people to look up to those who do great deeds is also not good for people and goes against human nature anyway. Maybe more stories about brave failures or people whose success is esoteric might help?