Cathy Arnst

My greatest hope for my daughter is that she grow up to be nice. Not a pushover, mind you, but someone who is considerate, generous, happy, and in general a pleasure to be around.
If she does turn out that way, she may be swimming against the tide. A new study out of San Diego State University finds that narcissism and self-entitlement among college students are at an all-time high.

The study examined the responses of 16,000 college students across the U.S. who filled out the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006. The lead author is Jean Twenge, SDSU psychology professor, and the research is the basis of her provacatively titled book "Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before." Her findings:

"Far from being civically oriented, young people born after 1982 are the most narcissistic generation in recent history," says Twenge. Thirty percent more college students showed elevated narcissism in 2006 compared to 1982, making current college students more narcissistic than Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. In addition, the average 2006 college student scored nearly as high on narcissism as the average celebrity from a sample of actors, musicians and reality TV stars collected by "Loveline" host Dr. Drew Pinsky.

Twenge says people high in narcissism lack empathy for others, are aggressive when insulted, seek public glory and favor self-enhancement over helping others look good. Narcissists are also more likely to be materialistic and to seek attention and fame.

To be fair, I have friends with children at or near college age, and none of them meet that description--except one. This young man, a recent Ivy League graduate, is the most self-absorbed and unhappiest person I know. How did he turn out that way? Perhaps because his parents raised him to think that nothing was his fault, that the rules didn't apply to him, that he could sleep/eat/play when he wanted, that he could quit or change any school, camp or lessons that didn't please him. To this day his mother talks about him as a very "special" person, who is frustrated in both his personal and professional life (no close friends, hates his entry level job) only because other people just don't "get" how smart and unique he is. He recently told me he plans to quit his job soon because he is smarter than all the people he works with but makes three times less. I imagine his supervisor has a different view.

I know several young children in my New York neighborhood who are being raised the same way, which makes me think that those narcissism percentages will only go up. It's certainly not easy in any high-achieving neighborhood to raise kids to not have a sense of entitlement. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.