Social Media May Breed Narcissists


Life Associate Editor

A psychologist specializing in narcissism believes today’s parents are unwittingly raising a generation of self-absorbed malcontents by publishing the minutiae of their children’s daily lives in blogs and documenting their every move on Facebook and YouTube.

Narcissism, named after the Greek god Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection, is characterized by extreme ego-centrism and selfishness.

Dr. Larry A. Bugen knows narcissism. He was raised by a narcissistic mother who traumatized her family for decades with her suicide attempts, hospitalizations, rage and manipulations. The Texas psychologist believes narcissism is the No. 1 obstacle to successful relationships.

“Studies show that 81 percent of the world’s children have an online presence before the age of 2,” Bugen said. “That means four out of five children have a projected ‘image’ before they have personally shaped an identity.”

A child exposed to this image that has been set forth by his or her parents may become enamored of that image and could even become addicted to seeing those images, Bugen said.

“As a psychologist, my concern is: when does a healthy interest in yourself start morphing into self-absorption and eventually into full-blown narcissism?”

In Bugen’s book, “Stuck on Me … Missing You,” he asserts that narcissists are unable to see beyond themselves to engage in healthy relationships with others. While individuals need to care for themselves and have a healthy self-image, they also are “wired” for intimacy with others.

“It’s all about balance,” Bugen said in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s one thing to have self-esteem, but are we promoting our children too much?”

Instead of posting every cute picture or video on the Internet, Bugen suggested parents should be spending time teaching their children what he calls the “six gifts”:

  • humility – I’m sorry, I messed up;
  • forgiveness – I forgive you;
  • acceptance – I accept you;
  • compassion – I care for you;
  • sacrifice – I will give things up for you; and
  • vision – I live my life with you and for you.

“I don’t believe any meaningful relationship can last over time without these six gifts,” he said. These gifts can be both modeled and actively taught to children through everyday experiences, those “teachable moments” that crop up in daily activities like caring for a pet, cleaning the bedroom, apologizing to a sibling, or picking up litter in the neighborhood.

“There are everyday opportunities to teach one or more of these six gifts, and if that happens, it will be carried over into healthy adult relationships,” Bugen said.

What about those adorable videos and pictures of Junior, though? Must parents keep them to themselves? Why not share them, if they make people smile? What about the talking twins, for example -nearly 2 million people have watched and laughed at the video of the 17-month-old brothers babbling animatedly to each other.

He said it’s fine to want to bring joy to others, but he cautioned parents to know when to say when. It’s not only the child who could grow to become addicted to his own projected image, but also the parents could get so caught up in posting about their children that it becomes an addiction for them. They begin living vicariously through those posts. And when their actions are reinforced – by a video going viral, for instance – they will tend to repeat the behavior because they get hooked on the attention.

“Who knows the kinds of things they will document in order to maintain a lot of attention coming their way,” Bugen said.

“It’s about balance; it’s about care for oneself and care for others,” he added.