Kids Don’t Raise Themselves: The Narcissism Epidemic … (part 4)

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.

Greater than Jesus: The Narcissism Epidemic … (part 3)

The Narcissism Epidemic … (part 2)

The Narcissism Epidemic … (part 1)


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4 Responses to Kids Don’t Raise Themselves: The Narcissism Epidemic … (part 4)

  1. Mary DeVries Yager says:

    I think that as one increases their ability to think for themselves, there might be a natural decline in blind obedience. Think about the Stanley Milgram studies in the early 1960’s where men in white coats (authority figures) got 65% of their subjects to administer a 450 volt lethal dose of electricity to another subject simply they were told to “proceed” by someone in authority. Or how about all the children who have suffered at the hands of a priest or a coach or a teacher who tells them to do unspeakable things, and to never tell anyone – and that they must obey because the are in authority over them. Frankly, I teach my kids to challenge earthy authority and think for themselves. I teach my kids to obey God, and in doing so, they will be able to make the correct choices. I tell them to obey mom and dad, and their teachers, but only when what we tell them agrees with what God teaches. So I guess, in that regard, I tell them that it is OK to challenge even parental authority. I would far rather have a critical thinker than a blindly obedient child.

    • Morning friend. Clearly, you and I are going to agree that blind obedience is not a good thing. One need look only as far as the Hitler youth of Nazi Germany to see that corrupted authority can produce horrific results when combined with blind obedience. Moreover, I completely agree with you in terms of teaching our kids to think critically. So here’s my question, and it’s not a question for which I have a quick answer. From a developmental perspective, are kids really capable of discerning when they should obey authority vs. when they should not? I mean, isn’t that the tension that exists in every house? Children believe they know what is best for themselves when clearly they do not. But at a certain age, the will develop the needed cognitive skills to ably discern the difference between positive and negative authority. So having said that, is the wise move to teach obedience, as a taught virtue, in the early stages? What do you think?

      P.S. While I wouldn’t ever wish your circumstances upon you, it is kind of nice to be able to chat (via this forum) over the past few days. I miss the days when we all lived close together. You’ve always been a great foil for me, and an even better friend.

  2. Josh The Younger says:

    I think it’s an interesting dilemma for Christians especially. We’re told constantly by culture to think for ourselves, to use our reason to determine what we believe is right. And that’s good. The obvious problem, though, is that what we believe to be right isn’t always actually right. In contrast, we’ve been told all our lives that we have to obey God. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to “blindly” obey God, we can still try to understand the ‘whys’, but it DOES mean that we have to obey God whether or not we’ve figured out those ‘whys’.

    Honestly, a case could be made for any of those five traits. Yes, even the popularity one. Every one of those traits is, directly or indirectly, very important. The problem is, none of them make a mature person on its own. Obedience can be blind, popularity can be abused, reasoning can be misinformed, hard work can be misplaced, even “helping” others without pausing to think can lead to more harm than help.

    All that being said, however, your point is a good one, Mr. B. Obedience is a very important trait. If every one is numero uno in their own minds, unnecessary, heated, and often downright ridiculous, conflict is inevitable.

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