I am just about finished with this great book: The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. I already knew that we Americans are quite narcissistic, but I wanted to see documentation from some experts in the field. The authors argue that narcissism in our society rests on a four-legged stool: 1) Developmental (parenting/schooling), 2) Media (the shallow celebrity culture), 3) Internet, and 4) Easy Credit. The first big part of the book talks about these four legs. In my opinion, these four that they mention are spot-on.
In case you’re wondering, narcissism is over-confidence, self-love, and self-centeredness all wrapped up in a single person. Synonyms include arrogant, vain, and conceited (p. 18). There’s even an entry in the DSM-IV called NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). The textbook case of narcissism (by way of example) is Paris Hilton, whose keeps hundreds of pictures of herself on her cell phone, who wears T-shirts with herself on them. Here are a few blurbs from the section on parenting/schooling and narcissism. By the way, did you know that some schools have things like “All About Me Month?” Or did you know that there’s a movement in the homeschooling circles called “unschooling,” where kids can decide what they want to learn and when? Did you know that some parents let their kids help pick out the family car, Mom’s haircut, or Dad’s new job?
“Not long ago, kids knew who the boss was – and it wasn’t them. It was Mom and Dad. And Mom and Dad weren’t your ‘friends.’ They were your parents. This sea change in parenting is driven by the core cultural value of self-admiration and positive feelings. Parents want their kids approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval.”
“A remarkable percentage of clothing for baby girls has ‘Princess’ or “Little Princess’ written on it, which is wishful thinking unless you are the long-lost heir to a throne. And if your daughter is a princess, does this mean that you are the queen or king? No – it means you are the loyal subject, and you must do what the princess says” (p. 74).
“Many parents intend princess parenting to lead to good outcomes: your little girl will think she’s the best, so she’ll later succeed in life and blow off the loser guys that she’d otherwise bring home. Given that narcissism leads to failure and to relationship problems, this is unlikely to work. Instead, your daughter might end up thinking she’s so special that she deserves to be treated like royalty – a prescription for narcissism, and considerably less amusing in a teenager than in the baby you first called ‘princess'” (p. 81).
“Even if you don’t practice princess parenting, little girls somehow absorb the princess idea out of the ether of our culture. Out of the blue one morning, Jean’s two-year-old daughter announced, ‘I’m a princess.’ How does a mother respond to this? Jean decided to be straightforward. ‘No, you’re not,’ she said. Fortunately, [her daughter] barely blinked and went on to contentedly eat her cereal – a breakfast, it should be noted, that was not served in a silver bowl by a butler in a castle. Unless this is how you and your daughter eat your breakfast, it’s best to confine the princess obsession to dress up and banish it from real life” (p. 81).
Though this book isn’t written from a Christian perspective, and though I would give it a “PG-13” or even “R” rating (when they document websites, blogs, and celebrities they don’t mask the language and content!), I’m glad I own it and am reading it, and I look forward to the last two chapters.
The book is also making me think how this “self-love on steroids” (narcissism) has affected the American church. The authors do mention Joel Osteen and his ‘gospel’ of the self. Some questions came to my mind: how have churches catered their worship to self-love/narcissism? How many sermons and worship songs are narcissistic? What about Christian books – has the Christian publishing industry been affected? Other questions arise as well – this book is making me think about many parts of the Christian faith, especially sanctification and discipleship in this type of world. Stay tuned for more later.