I want my military kids to know I am always proud of how they adapt and overcome. I want to encourage them. I do not want them to grow-up to be aggressive, narcissistic jerks.
But a new study shows that is exactly what could happen if I make a habit of heaping my military brats with over-the-top statements of praise and accolades. According to the study's findings I could be setting them up with a big ego and a narcissistic personality.
The study from the Ohio State University, published March 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists, examined 565 sets of children in the Netherlands between ages 7 and 11 and their parents. They examined how the parents' methods of showing warmth and demonstrating value for their kids' accomplishments impacted personality and self-esteem.
The results? Children who regularly received what the researchers called "parental overvaluation," being told, for example, that they were "more special than others," scored higher in measures for narcissism than those whose parents gave them a more realistic view of themselves through statements of appreciation and affection.
It's the difference between telling a child that "you are most special because you are a military kid" and "you are special to me."
What does this mean for military families? In an effort to be encouraging and supportive of our kids we may be setting them up for an inflated view of themselves -- and a deflated view of their peers, especially non-military ones.
Now, the study does point out that just because a child has narcissistic tendencies does not mean that they grow-up to be a narcissist. So let's not get ahead of ourselves.
But if you stop and think about the habits military parents and particularly military supporters have in communicating with and about our brats, you can see how this could be a problem. You can see how we might be guilty of this over-praise habit.
For example, a controversial book is renowned for giving military kids the title of "heroes," something many grown-up military brats took issue with. And, let's be honest -- stating that a military kid is a "hero" probably does fall under the category of "overvaluation." Even the "dandelion" title and sweeping proclamation that military children "bloom anywhere," may be a bit too much to give to all military kids.
Is it a nice thing to say? Sure. But when it becomes a message reinforced to children over time? It could create a problem.
Are military kids adaptable and resilient as a group? Yes, if only because they have to be. But the researchers showed that our regular dialogues with our children should be more realistic and less inflated if we want to avoid personality problems later -- and taking that "brat" thing literally.
Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.