Sunday, September 7, 2014

Narcissist Kids: The Biggest Products of American Parents

The article in the most recent TIME ('The Little Narcissists', Sept. 1, p. 41) is an eye-opener and also a source of terror - or should be - to those civilized citizens who dread the ruination of what remains of our nation by a bunch of sociopaths. While the article focuses on the young kid narcissists, it pulls no punches in projecting these to the dangers of full blown adult narcissists. These are individuals who believe they're the center of the universe and all its parts must revolve around their whims and desires.  And to achieve those ego-gratifying ends, they will exploit anyone they can. To quote the authors:

"We are all the bald man in the narcissist's world. Too often, the blow falls before we're quick enough to stop it."

True, but what IF it could be stopped when the narcissists are still small, say in the tyke stage. Then, perhaps the kid will not mutate into the adult narcissist and undermine all our efforts to consolidate a more humane society. To give a couple examples of adult narcissists contributing to the demolition of this country, look no further than Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly - each of whom is totally convinced he is the law of the cosmos - and all who challenge it are "terrorists" or worse, "liberals"! (O'Reilly's narcissism was actually instrumental in ending his English teaching career at Mgsr. Pace High School, which I once attended - though about 8 yrs. prior to O'Reilly's arrival!)

Compared to fifty or sixty years ago, there appear to be many more kid narcissists especially, and I attribute a lot of that to changed parenting practices. Fifty or sixty years ago a lot of what kids do today would never be tolerated. For example, the recent yucks on Thursday 2 weeks ago, when the anchors on 'Good Morning America' laughed at the letter of a 7 year old to her parents, demanding they "adjust attitudes" before she would deign to allow them to read to her at bedtime again. Are you kidding me? I asked wifey what her mom would have done if she'd have penned such a missive to her mom. She smiled, then said: "I would have been sent to my room and that would be after some good hard licks!"  

But middle class parents, especially seem to be prepared to let their offspring be the kings and queens of the homestead and dictate almost everything. We now know from many studies (e.g. John Chilton Pearce's 'Evolution's End') that the battle of wills commences much earlier than many parents believe. Chilton and others have indicated, and I've no reason to doubt based on years of observing interactions of young nieces, nephews with parents, caregivers - that it begins as young as two, maybe before. But certainly the test of wills surfaces often at the phase of the "terrible two's"

And so we had the spectacle of 2-year old Natalie Vieau pitching a tormented fit at being strapped into her seat on a Feb. 18, 2012 Jet Blue flight - demanding to be seated with mommy instead, see. e.g.

Her determined exercise of will power got her - and her family -  kicked off the flight, with a cost of $2,000 to catch another.

Meanwhile, 11-year old Mark Garrity Shea mustered his own test of will against his mom, Ms. Brucie Jacobs, in 2000, when the two took off for a jaunt in Botswana. Young Mark had always camped in a tent by himself in his home environs of suburban Maryland and insisted he wanted to do likewise in the Okavango bush of Botswana. After all, what young man at the age of eleven wants to sleep with mom? That's the epitome of babyness, and Mark wanted no part of it.

Had this middle class mom thought deeply about it, she'd have realized the pair were not anywhere near a Maryland camp site, but in the of the last real African wilderness areas left, and certainly not to be treated as a zoo. But she didn't and so allowed Mark to be in a tent sleeping by himself.

She only realized her mistake some time later, after midnight, when she heard her son's frantic screams as he was dragged away by a pack of hungry hyenas.

Some lessons are simply learned too late, and way too painful! Had the mom established the parameters of her will many years earlier - maybe as young as when Mark was two (Natalie Vieau's age) - this might never have transpired. Mark would have understood at his mom's initial 'No!' that this is what she meant and it was no use pressing or pushing her to change her mind and let him camp out alone.

But according to studies disclosed in a 2012 WSJ piece ('A Field Guide to the Middle Class U.S. Family', p. D2, March13), this has now become the nature of the American middle class: perpetual wimps - giving in to anything their kiddies want, and worse, sometimes even acting as their slaves.

The study of interest was conducted by researchers at UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF), and geared to 'in vivo' or real life observation, rather than in labs. The studies, using video cameras to record family interactions in middle class America, Samoa and Peru's Amazon, showed how widely children are treated across cultures.

In Samoa, for example, children serve food to their elders and wait patiently until these elders have had their designated selections and started eating before they eat. They can't come to a table and just lunge or grab at food like many American kids. In Peru's Amazon girls no more than 5 years of age are required to climb trees to harvest papaya, and must also help (along with the boys) to haul logs thicker than their legs to stoke fires.

In other words, these kids aren't waited on, they aren't treated like "pals" and they are not permitted to exercise their own wills other than in limited domains.

The CELF U.S. videos showed parents doing most of the house work and not asking any kids to help out - even to clean their own room. In one video scene, an 8-year old named "Ben" is shown sprawling out on a couch demanding his dad to untie his shoe, then when he does - to put the shoe back on and tie it up again. The dad complied each time like a trained chimp, whereas the first time I'd have tried a stunt like that with my own dad, he'd have asked: "WHAT did you say?" as he reached for a belt.

Thankfully, even this wimpy LA dad eventually reached his limit of being pushed when the kid then demanded the dad bring him his coat from the closet and the dad responded, "Get it yourself!" Wow! Rough, tough and hard to diaper, there!

The CELF videos trained on middle class American families also revealed that in 75% of the families, mothers  "gyrate around the house" - bouncing between kids, their homework, groceries, dinner and laundry. Is it any wonder so many American married women are totally neurotic and more than 70% can't get a decent night's sleep without a pill? Cripes!

And what about the kids in all this? You know, the same ones who at age 5 in Peru would be harvesting papaya by climbing trees and who in Samoa would be cooking AND serving the food to their elders? According to Dr Elinor Ochs, the anthropologist in charge of the CELF study (ibid.):

"The kids are oblivious to their parents' perspectives"

In other words, American middle class parents appear to be raising a bumper crop of narcissists and egomaniacs. And the likely outcome from them when they will, at some point - have to acknowledge another's will (even if it's just a demanding, no-nonsense physics teacher)? Well, either prison for antisocial behavior, or more likely, a borderline personality disorder which will follow them through life with endless altercations, job firings, divorces ....whatnot.

 Doing their cross-cultural analyses the CELF researchers concluded the reason for this state of affairs was for the tendency in U.S. society to focus on children, rather than teaching children to focus on others.

The other deleterious effect is on education, at nearly all levels.  Let's leave aside for the moment that the teaching profession  over the past thirty or so years, is less and less respected. I attribute a lot of this to an entrenched anti-intellectualism nascent in the country from the time soon after the Civil War. While detractors heap much scorn on "inadequate" teachers, few bother to look at the parents. As one Denver Post letter writer put it:

"Politicians and school boards are afraid to tell you the truth. After decades of passionate efforts to improve educational outcomes, success is still at the margins. So here is reality: We don't need school reform, we need parental reform

Yes, the dirty secret is that parents are the real problem and real education reform must start at home. But politicians won't stop pandering to the voters, finding it more expedient to lay it all on the schools."

This is more than a mouthful and bears close examination. The parents! Who would have thought? But if parents are indeed incapable of even minor control of their kids behavior - letting the kids rule them - why would anyone expect the parents would be able to make the kids invest in their school work? 

Besides, evidence shows that this parental -bred narcissism doesn't stop at elementary school or high school, but its effects can also be felt when the little narcissists enter college.  Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, the author of 'Generation Me', and co-author of "The Narcissism Epidemic" has  argued that freshmen of the current generation always heard they were "special", and told to single-mindedly pursue their goals. "Generation Me", she insists, is higher in narcissism and lower in empathy than previous generations. They are more likely to see themselves as singular individuals different from all others.

She adds that "today’s students will experience a jarring transition to college, leaving behind lives structured by adults for a free-form world where they have to make their own decisions. "

True! Because most never have lived authentically and independently, they will persist in their parental connection via phone, email or whatever other means Mommy or Daddy can assist junior on whether he ought to take a dump before going to chem lab, or take a chance on being late and.....getting the evil eye from the prof.

Meanwhile, Philip Babcock, an assistant professor of economics at University of California, Santa Barbara says:

"The data show that full-time students in all types of colleges study much less now than they did a generation ago — a full 10 hours a week less. Students are also receiving significantly higher grades. So it appears that academic pressures are, in fact, considerably lower than they used to be."

He also added:

"full-time students do not appear to be studying less in order to work more. They appear to be studying less and spending the extra time on leisure activities or fun. It seems hard to imagine that students feeling increased financial pressures would respond by taking more leisure."

In other words, in Bajan parlance, these Neo-narcissists are doing more "skylarking": Twittering, Facebooking ("friending") or other nonsense than hitting the books - and classes. The key question is how can they get away with it? How can they have so much free time and not pay a heavy price in low grades?

Hara Estroff Marano, editor-at-large of Psychology Today and the author of A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, seems to have the answer nailed:

"In a real sense, students don't really leave their parents behind. Their parents go to college right along with them — in their front pockets. That is, the parents are a speed dial away by cellphone. And the evidence is clear that students call parents and parents call students at an alarmingly frequent rate. This, of course, significantly reduces independence.

A student gets a C on her first paper? Instead of absorbing the negative information and figuring out how to resolve the problem or how to do better, the call gets made to home, where Mom or Dad solves the problem, often by calling the school administration. This kind of behavior is, sadly, commonplace today and is a mark of the lack of coping skills among students because all the lumps and bumps have been taken out of life for them until now

Again, the message is that it is the parents who are the problem, as they were in elementary and high school.

The parents are always prepared to make every effort to cajole, threaten and abuse the professors or teachers so that little Junior or Missy doesn't have to get too many headaches over D -minuses awarded for sloppy work in physics, or chemistry or math.  As in the earlier school years, these parents reinforce the narcissism. Better the chemistry or math Prof gets reamed out, and little Dorian's grades changed -than his parents admit to having spawned a lazy loser.

This brings up another point of why it costs over $270,000 just to raise a kid today to the age of 18. As Bloomberg columnist Megan McArdle argued in a recent column, the reason for the inflated costs of raising a kid today is because of competition: every parent wants to outdo the others in getting little Jimmy or Suzy the best possible breaks and into the best possible schools. So they will pay for after school private dance classes, or special soccer training or art appreciation, and also sending the little narcissists on trips overseas "to broaden their perspectives". Finally parents will pay through the eyes, ears and nose to get  their charges those special SAT prep classes. Take all the extra BS away, and the cost of raising that kid plummets significantly to maybe $120k or less. (Oh, I forgot, this presupposes the parents leave out all the brand wear that the kid demands and just gets the little doofus proper clothing that fits.)

Sadly, the evidence shows that the American tendency to coddle kids and raise narcissist nuts isn't going to change any time soon. They are all too 'all in' on this losing wicket, and no amount ot talking sense will change their minds!

Meanwhile, the biggest worry that ought to terrify all of us is if these neo-narcissists survive childhood and go on to become tomorrow's CEOs - ready to underpay and exploit their workers - or mutate into arch-criminals, computer hackers and terror-attracted freakazoids who join the likes of the ISIS vermin. All different? Nope. As one therp put it interviewed on BBC America, the only difference between a nut that joins ISIS to be part of some dumb 'jihad' and a CEO that screws all his workers (as 'Chainsaw' Al Dunlap once did) is the direction of the sociopathy.

For one (CEO) there are monumental rewards in much higher salary and perks including company shares. For the other (ISIS -joining American) there is a sure death sentence by drone or other if his rabid ass is ever turned up.  The incongruities of life.

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