Teach Your Children

Where is that balance between protecting, nurturing and loving, and enabling narcissistic self-centeredness? Real question, please answer if you can.

There is a lot of chatter about the increasingly narcissistic tendencies of the younger generations, fueled by things like Facebook and Instagram and whatever the latest tool is for sharing your every thought, movement and expression with the world. I don’t disagree with any of that. I think that social media is encouraging a kind of egocentric behavior that is bad for the individual and bad for society. But I don’t know that it starts with social media, it seems to me that it is starting earlier and we are training our children to be self-centered to such an extreme degree that there is no option for them to grow out of it, no reason to be anything but an ape of a Kardashian.

Children are naturally narcissistic, it’s necessary for them to survive. Developmentally that is a natural behavior pattern for babies and toddlers, then they start to discover where they fit in the many, the adolescent years move back to a focus on self and finally, theoretically they grow out of it, become adult members of a society with a group awareness. What happens if we never grow out of our adolescent selves, if we continue to function as though the only thing that matters is self, and behaviors that get us the greatest visibility are what drive our ambition? I don’t know the answer but I am pretty sure it is not good.

One of the tasks in parenting is to impart ethics and values to the growing generation. We should make an attempt to teach right and wrong, good and bad. Children learn what we teach, they learn as we do, as we act, as we interact with them and others. If your life revolves entirely around your child they learn that they are the only thing that matters. If you photograph and “film” every moment of their waking life they learn that everyone is supposed to watch them, all the time. If they are the only thing that matters, then guess what, they are going to grow up to believe that they are the only thing that matters and they are going to act like that as adults.

In a twenty-four period last week I experienced two things that bothered me and it took a bit to figure out why. I sat with that prickly feeling for some time but then got it: not everything is about you, your convenience, your publicity, and your immediate desire. Sometimes you have to be quiet and watch, sometimes you have to let someone else have something, and if no one teaches you this then you won’t ever learn.

The first issue came up when I was at a concert in a small venue where the audience was able to come right up to the stage. At one point some of the audience was invited to come dance on the stage. It was a great performance. At the end of the night as the singer and band were taking us through a quiet moment in the show a woman (who had danced on the stage) shouted “I have a question.” Interesting turn of events, the singer held the microphone down to her and then she proceeded to dramatically sing her question asking that the back up singers be invited to extend the concert in lieu of the lead. My impression was that this individual was auditioning for a job. The singer ignored her, finished the song and left. Our interrupting questioner was not popular, all agreed it was bizarre and inappropriate. My guess is that she had the video posted before the hall was empty. Maybe she’ll get a reality show.

The second instance happened the following morning in a crowded airport, the consequence of bad weather and cancelled flights, and I had to pick my way through crowded aisles to reach two empty seats amongst a large group of young boys, maybe eight to ten years old. As I put my bag down I was informed by the chaperone, loudly, that I could not sit there, some of the hockey players (I presume the young children) might be coming back and those seats were for them. Now I’m not that old but I can remember a time when a ten year old would be told to relinquish their seat to an adult, that is part of how you learn about respect, and courtesy and selflessness; you have younger legs, you stand and defer to the adult. I was hustled away not by rude children, they had scooted over to make more room, but by the adult and the message she imparted was that these children were at the apex of importance. Never mind that it is an adult somewhere, who works to make the life they enjoy possible; no the message we gave is that their comfort, convenience and desire trumped all. What do you think this person grows up to act like?

I am not pretending that I am a perfect parent. I have done it wrong more often that I can remember. It’s a fine balance: where do I become self-centered in my quest to create a sense of external awareness for my children, how do we maintain self while being aware of the other? We have to try, we have to think about the outcome we are looking for, we have to think about the people we want to be, not just being a person that gets a lot of “likes” or the immediate gratification of whatever it is that we think we need.

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