Teens: Confidence or Narcissism?

Jul 21, 2010

Last Friday a friend of mine posted the following on his Facebook page:

“In the 50s teens were asked if they thought they were an “important person.” 12% said yes. In the 1980s…over 75% said yes. Who was right?”

A great question. Not necessarily because one is right and one is wrong, but because simply looking at the disparity makes me wonder which group of teens showed the desired result. What is it we really want for our kids?

I would say it depends.

Those stats hit me where I live. I’m hanging out with hundreds of teenagers this week, AND I’m nearing the final years of raising my three boys, the youngest going on 14, the oldest nearing 19. Whether with my boys or the students I mentor, I’ve worked hard to help them see their unique value, to appreciate differences, capitalize on strengths, fine-tune weaknesses. But there are times–namely when I see shocking evidence of absolute self-consumption and callousness toward anything external to them–that I have to wonder if we’ve made this whole life thing too much about them, and not enough about an awareness and promotion of God and others.

Do I want my kids to see themselves as important? Yes, although, honestly, I don’t think “important” is the word I’m looking for. I want them to see themselves as a unique product of a Creator, capable of contributing to our culture, significant and valuable, accountable for using their gifts for some kind of good. But there is a fine line between affirming their tremendous value and leading them to believe their value eclipses that of others.

C.S. Lewis said: “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”

Are we producing a generation of confident world-changers or poisonous narcissists? How do you cultivate confidence and selflessness at the same time?

(pic by eurostilet, stock.xchng)


  1. Susan

    That is a tough one. The only thought that comes to mind is cultivating a consciousness of the Love of God and responding with the two greatest commandments.

    This generation can be confident that God loves them and has a plan for them. But to counter narcissism their response to be cultivated is to love God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength and their neighbor as themselves.

    Who is their neighbor? The Good Samartan answers that question. Whoever they come in contact to show kindness to – even when they are despised by the culture and "the wrong religion."

    • Michele Cushatt

      Susan, you brought to mind something I've been thinking about lately. One of the qualities I admire most about today's youth is their love of differences. For the most part, I see them being far more accepting and less judgmental of people of different opinions, faiths, backgrounds, appearances, etc. That IS a good quality, and one I admire. Of course, there is a flip side to every strength.

      • Susan

        Michele, I see what you observe in today's youth reflected in the new cartoons. Compare the characters of the old Disney or Hanna Barbara or Warner Bro. to those today. More diversity. More strong females. But what messages are infused in the psyche? That would take several posts.

  2. Jerolyn

    Wow, Michele, great questions. Maybe the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Guess the jury is still out on that one. But you raise some valid points. Kids need to see the reality of who Christ is in our lives and in the lives of others.

    • Michele Cushatt

      I don't really know the right solution, but I know it requires consideration. I bet I'll be wrestling with this one for a while!

  3. Jill

    I really like this post, Michele. I think you've raised some valid concerns. I don't have any answers, but you've got me thinking.

    • Sharon

      I think this is a great post, too. The first few things that pop into my mind in response to your question are …
      * love them – sincerely, with a pure heart, knowing who you are
      * set boundaries for yourself … draw the line and keep it … but make it your line, make it about what you will and won't do, will and won't accept
      * watch them … don't shape them. Who are they? Figure out how you can help and support them to become their best selves
      * don't put your crap on them
      * model, model, model …. to quote Stephen Covey, "The real key to your influence with me is your example."

      We are often taught that the only moral alternatives to us are the 2 extremes of "selfishness" or "sacrifice". But, this is not true. We would all do well to try and model/teach that caring for oneself does not require a disregard for others.

      • Michele Cushatt

        "Caring for oneself does not require a disregard for others." Great insight … one that my counselor friend would be thrilled to hear! But I do believe we tend to live in the extremes of that pendulum, either pouring ourselves completely out for others to the exclusion of personal growth/refreshment OR focusing so much on self-fulfillment that we neglect the beauty of investing in someone else. Finding healthy boundaries and knowing the time for each takes a significant measure of wisdom. Now, if we grown-ups could figure that out, we might do a better job of modeling it! Easier said than done, at least for me. 🙂

    • Michele Cushatt

      When you get any answers, Jill, let me know. 😉 I'm still processing through this one myself! I'm afraid some of those answers/perspectives will only come in hindsight.


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