By Caitlin St John
March 09, 2015

Parents are wired to love their children unconditionally and to believe they're extra special (and who can blame them!), but according to research, "overvaluing" your child may hurt them in the long run.

A new study shows that children whose parents think they are "more special than other children" or "deserve something extra in life," display more narcissistic characteristics and behaviors.

Researchers collected data from 565 children (ages 7 to 11) and their parents in order to find out how narcissism develops. Over the course of a year and a half, participants completed four surveys that measured children's levels of self-esteem and narcissism, as well as parents' emotional warmth and their tendency to overvalue their children's abilities.

The difference between high self-esteem and narcissism was clearly evident. Children who had high self-esteem reported being happy with themselves without believing they were better than others. Narcissists believed their worth was higher than others, which can contribute to aggression and violence later in life.

Parental warmth was also associated with higher self-esteem, while overvaluation was linked with higher levels of narcissism. According to the study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, "parental overvaluation was connected to narcissism even after the researchers took into account the narcissism levels of the parents." Put another way: narcissistic parents don't always have narcissistic children; instead, excessive praise and compliments are strong influencing factors.

This study expands on earlier research that aimed to show the degree to which some parents overvalue their children. Parents who overestimated their children's worth claimed they had an abundance of knowledge, even about topics that didn't actually exist. But overvaluation is not the only factor that causes narcissism; individual traits and genetics are also important to consider.

Since beginning research on this topic, Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, has altered his own parenting style to avoid treating his three children like they are extra special. "Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others. That may not be good for them or for society," Bushman says.

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She's a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn

Image: Girl looking in mirror via Shutterstock


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