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Narcissism, self-assessment, and external feedback - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Narcissism, self-assessment, and external feedback [Sep. 11th, 2014|02:58 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Last week the Strib had an article about teenagers–mostly girls ages 13 to 15–posting painfully sincere selfies and videos asking the internet to tell them the truth about whether they are ugly. And most of this article was about the effects on the kids in question, but there was some of the usual hand-wringing about how supposedly narcissistic this young generation is.


Narcissism, you see, is something that groups mostly suffer from if they’re younger than you. If you go to a nursing home and everyone there wants to talk about their individual aches and pains for hours, nobody wants to talk about the narcissism of the elderly. (And rightly so, because plenty of old people are not narcissistic. But plenty of young people aren’t either.) It can’t be that some percentage of people are pretty self-centered, and it’s more culturally acceptable to call younger people on it than older people. It also can’t be that developmentally people in their teens and early twenties are going through a time when they’re figuring out their abilities and plans and place in the world. Nope. The particular teens we have at any given moment are perpetually uniquely narcissistic. You can read it in the paper. ALWAYS. So it must be true.


Self-assessment is useful in many areas, and it can be hard to get help with it from the people around you. I’m not surprised that these teens want to find out whether they’re pretty or not. I’m somewhat surprised that they’re still naive enough, at thirteen, to think that the internet will tell them the truth. Of course the people around them–Mom, Dad, friends, whoever–will not. They will say, “You look so pretty,” when they mean a dozen different things like, “I love you,” and “I want you to feel good about yourself,” and “I understand and approve of what you’re wearing more today than yesterday,” and “you look so much like your grandmother today–I miss her so much–I wish she could have been here to see you grow up.” Thirteen-year-olds are old enough, smart enough to know this. They’re trying to figure themselves out and figure out how to relate to the world. That’s not necessarily narcissistic. Asking the internet is naive. But we all wanted to know where we fit, who we were, when we were thirteen. We still do, but we’ve got more data, more practice at it, past that age.


I was thinking about this in terms of all the advice about not telling kids that they’re smart, telling them that they did a good job on a specific piece of work. I see where that advice is coming from. But a few weeks ago I was at the zoo with my godson Rob, who is twelve, and I needed to tell him, “Rob, you’re walking very fast. It’s faster than the other people in the group can walk right now. They need you to slow down because they literally cannot keep up with how fast you are walking.” There are times when being a smart kid is like that. There are times when you’re young and not entirely socially aware, when it’s very useful to know that other people are not goofing off on purpose, they’re not failing to pay attention because they’d rather be doing something else, they are just not as smart as you, or not as smart in a particular subset of picking things up. They are trying. Telling a kid they’re smart is not always praise. Telling a kid they’re pretty, musical, fast, strong, whatever, is not always praise. It doesn’t have to be handled that way. Sometimes it’s useful feedback at an age where they’re not very good at self-assessment or at placing their self-assessment in the context of others and compassion for those others or compassion for themselves.


In science fiction, we have an established critique culture. It’s just a known thing that you can go to some group–friends, or a workshop in person, or an online workshop–and get an assessment of how you’re doing at something that affects your life. You can arrange, one way or another, to get other people who actually know something about it to critique your work, and you can get enough of them to do it to get at least a bit of triangulation. You won’t know perfectly, of course, but you’ll have the rough outlines, what’s working, what’s not, whether you’re publishable, whether you’re way out of that category. And I think we take it for granted as adults that external feedback above the level of “u suck” will be available. We need to recognize that while the internet has given teenagers access to all sorts of things we didn’t have, perspective is one of the ones that’s hardest to get that young, and cut them a break.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sartorias
2014-09-11 08:08 pm (UTC)
Well said about young groups. Good grief, how many letters and diaries have a read in which young people examined themselves in mirrors endlessly?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-11 08:19 pm (UTC)
Right, exactly. All these people who are like, "OMG this means young people today are SO NARCISSISTIC": I looked at that and thought, right, like you didn't worry about (someday) attracting people of your desired sex(es) when you were 13, jerkface.

Not that I am judgy of these jerkface people who are jerkfaces. But really, you set yourself up against 13-year-olds as a group and I usually know whose side I'm on.
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2014-09-11 08:22 pm (UTC)
A-double-men.

Cut the kids a break, for goodness sake. The hormones are kicking in, the brain is going through big changes, including the first inklings of pulling away from home, and kids want to see where they fit in the world. They also want to be liked, and admired, and who doesn't? I had a great aunt who lied about her age increasingly as she got old, until one time my grandmother complained that Harriet, who had married when my grandmother was a kid, was suddenly claiming to be younger than she was! (Both were in their nineties!)

I also think that kids' selfies are adorable.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-11 08:25 pm (UTC)
I found myself explaining last week, "I am trying to make the face that B. makes in [particular kind of selfie]." Because she has so much fun in them.
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2014-09-11 08:28 pm (UTC)
Heh!
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[User Picture]From: supergee
2014-09-11 10:45 pm (UTC)
And the music they listen to is just noise.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-11 10:46 pm (UTC)
Also their clothes look funny, not like when I was their age and clothes looked cool.
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From: swan_tower
2014-09-12 12:38 am (UTC)
People who grew up in the Regency and were complaining circa 1840 get a pass on that one, because they're right: clothes did look better back in their day. :-P
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From: swan_tower
2014-09-12 05:10 pm (UTC)
<lol> I'm glad I'm not the only one. Because dang if the mid-19th century is not the single ugliest period of English fashion, ever.
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[User Picture]From: carbonel
2014-09-13 03:41 am (UTC)
Bustles came in a little later (1867, says Wikipedia), but I think those may be high on the list for weirdest popular fashion necessity.
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From: swan_tower
2014-09-15 05:28 pm (UTC)
Weird, yes -- but I don't find them hideous the way I do the preceding style (the "let me merge my torso into the general bell-shape of me" look).
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2014-09-12 04:18 am (UTC)
...clothes looked cool when we were young?

I mean, I get that we are mocking the sentiment. But yoga pants >> hammer pants and Cavariccis. By a loooong way.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-12 11:59 am (UTC)
Jeans and flannels. Little hippie dresses and Docs. Women's clothes in dark green or navy or burgundy, dammit, although that seems to be coming back HURRAH.
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From: swan_tower
2014-09-12 05:12 pm (UTC)
Given how much I wanted Cavariccis back then, I feel as if I should remember what they looked like . . . but I don't.

(I think I couldn't have Cavariccis because I was too small for them. I was a crazy skinny kid.)

<google image searches> Ah. Okay then.
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