I’ve had the opportunity to interview many coaches and physical education instructors with two and even three decades invested in their careers. During these interviews I like to ask, “How are the kids today different from the kids you worked with when you started?” Some of these educators, especially those at smaller schools who often see their kids through 12 years of education, say, “Not at all.” Others say, “There are more distractions today, and many students don’t seem as motivated as their predecessors were to excel to the highest levels in sports or academics.” Good answers, but there is one disturbing personality trait I’ve seen that characterizes many young people today – narcissism.
Narcissism is a complex mental health condition, but a simple definition is that it is a personality disorder in which an individual overestimates their talents and is obsessed with the need for admiration. It’s not about being self-confident but more about having an ego that is so overinflated that a person has a sense of entitlement. Think of the “Sharpay Evans” character Ashley Tisdale played in the High School Musical movies – that’s narcissism.
While Sharpay is a relatively harmless character who believes her destiny is to be famous, narcissism is not a condition to be taken lightly. To back up this statement, I would refer you to a fascinating book on this subject called The Narcissism Epidemic, by Jean M. Twenge, PhD, and W. Keith Campbell, PhD (Free Press, 2009).
The authors point out that narcissism is harmful to the person displaying this behavior, because when they fail to achieve the goals they feel entitled to, they can experience serious depression. Narcissism can also harm others, as the narcissist’s obsession with their own self-worth can seem to justify treating others poorly. It also affects society in general, as these individuals can engage in behaviors that become a burden on society.
How prevalent is narcissism? The authors found that in tests that measure narcissism, scores are higher today than they have been in previous decades. In one major study of college students, one out of four students tested as having narcissistic traits. With high school students, the authors report that one out of every three seniors are “completely satisfied with themselves,” compared to one out of four in 1975. And there is also evidence that middle school students are also displaying higher levels of inflated egos compared to their predecessors in the 1980s.
The authors suggest that one possible cause of narcissism is the self-centeredness caused by Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking sites. But one point the authors make that really caught my attention is that “young people didn’t raise themselves. They got these narcissistic values from somewhere, often from their parents or media messages created by older people.”
Although BFS is primarily known for its exercise equipment and workout programs, we are especially proud of the Be an 11 program that we started over a decade ago. Rather than fostering self-centeredness, these BFS seminars teach young people how to set higher goals, work harder and become better individuals with a value system based upon the highest standards. If you are a coach who works with young people, or if you are a parent, encourage your school to hold a Be an 11 clinic today!
Regarding this edition of BFS magazine, one athlete who is definitely an 11 is Amy Elizabeth Medina of Mountain View High School in Loveland, Colorado. Medina is the 2010 BFS Female Athlete of the Year, and you can read her story beginning on page 10. You’ll also find some great articles about sports coaching, strength and conditioning, and exciting new developments in exercise equipment.
Kim Goss, MS
Editor in Chief, BFS magazine