As we continue to explore the rise of narcissism in North American society, we have to realize that this growth in self-obsession is not happening in a vacuum. There are an abundance of factors involved in fostering this national quagmire, perhaps none more significant than the changes that have occurred in our attitudes regarding parenting.
In their latest book, The Narcissism Epidemic, Twenge and Campbell offer some unique insights gleaned from a large, national study that dates all the way back to 1958. In this study, parents were asked the following question: “If you had to choose, which thing on this list would you pick as the most important for a child to learn to prepare him (or her) for life?” The options were as follows:
- “To obey”
- “To be well-liked or popular”
- “To think for himself or herself”
- “To work hard”
- “To help others when they need help”
The first thing to note, from of this study, is that parents’ greatest desire for their children has not changed from 1958 to 2004. Over the past half-century, parents consistently prioritize a child’s ability “to think for themselves.” This is not terribly surprising, for personal autonomy is one of the supreme values endorsed by the Enlightenment. And if America is anything at all, it is, at bare minimum, a living, breathing experiment in Enlightenment values.
Somewhat more surprising is the trend related to obedience. Take a look at the graph below:
Back in 1958, obedience was the second greatest virtue amongst this list of desirable traits to be possessed by one’s child. But by 2004, obedience has declined by 15% to an all-time low, where it now ranks second to last.
What do you think? Is it possible to maintain an orderly home where obedience is not valued? What about a society? Is it possible for society to function if obedience is no longer a virtue? And lastly, what can we reasonably expect in a society where narcissism is on the rise, at the same time that obedience, as a taught virtue, is on the decline?
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For previous posts in this series, please feel free to make use of any of the following links.