I’ve had the chance to form a considered opinion on this topic over the last year, having dealt with a record number of troubled teenagers. If you look at the plethora of studies and articles on the subject, the reason could be literally ‘anything’… well, it’s not.
One study did, in fact, identify something important, a dramatic increase in narcissism: “A 2010 study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that the percentage of college students exhibiting narcissistic personality traits, based on their scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a widely used diagnostic test, has increased by more than half since the early 1980s, to 30 percent. In their book “Narcissism Epidemic,” the psychology professors Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell show that narcissism has increased as quickly as obesity has since the 1980s.”
Alarming… narcissism is a more complex topic than most think. The archetypal opinion is a self-centered, armor plated, thick skinned, arrogant populist; these traits are actually the property of the Pathological Narcissist and they include anger, intolerance and bullying. For those unfortunate enough to have a Pathological Narcissist in their life they will know that these traits are split, so that the outside world see the super friendly face, the family get the angry bully.
The young narcissists discussed in the study are fragile creatures, their self obsession driven not by “self love” but by the perceived opinions of others – recipe for disaster? Heck yes! Someone’s going to knock you down, or merely disagree. To the Generation X “life’s no picnic” sector, they just shrug and move on. To teenagers this is a disaster, they were told “you can be/do anything”, now I don’t disagree but you have to understand this is invariably misinterpreted by children. It comes out as “nothing negative will ever happen” (I will be discussing ‘how children interpret messages’ in my forthcoming book), so when it ‘unexpectedly’ does… major problem! We literally see the collapse of a world-view.
I think this is somewhat understood but what isn’t is the huge amplifier of Social Media… This creates a cyclonic effect, negative-energy cycles round and round as events are commented on and exaggerated, the end result being a Gen X misstep = a Millennial DISASTER. This results in a literal emotional crash and burn for teenagers!
The result? Not, as you might think. Not histrionics, shouting, crying, tantrums. No. What we see is more worrying: IT’S ANXIETY AND A DEEP MALAISE… Parents of troubled teens are already familiar with this worrying malaise, a sort of ‘giving up’ and ‘withdrawing from society’. Why? When you get stung that hard you instinctively withdraw.
It can be very dangerous to let this mindset take hold and become the dominant personality
What do I do about it? Unlike traditional therapies, which, quite frankly don’t have a concerted approach, I use my non-linear dynamics based system, IPM, to reset that early conditioning, so that we get back to the more moderate interpretation of “you can do/be anything” to incorporate a more uneven path to the destination (as the real world reflects) which accounts for setbacks and shows that they are essential learning experiences to reach your final goal.
One final point, if you have a teenager with this issue ACT. If it isn’t dealt with swiftly it becomes embedded and develops into a host of life problems.