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Are teens becoming narcissists?

I was recently talking with another dad about the work we do. I excitedly told him that MyStrengths helps teenagers understand their uniqueness and grow to love who they are. Straight out, he said to me,

“Young people these days have TOO MUCH self love! Have you seen on social media? They are so intothemselves! They spend all their time taking photos of themselves and posting it everywhere. I think we’re breeding a generation of narcissists.”

A good point! But was he right? It got me wondering:

Does the prevalence of selfies indicate a generation of secure, happy teens, confident in their worth and proud of who they are? Or is there something else at play?

“The emerging generation may be more self-promoting,

but that’s not the same as self-worth.


What’s underlying the selfie?

There’s nothing particularly new or harmful about showing the world your beautiful family, personal achievements or even best smile (Blue Steel anyone?). We’ve been doing it for decades, showcasing our best and proudest moments.

However, the emerging generation is taking it to the next level – many posting pics of themselves daily, even hourly, documenting their every movement. For some, it’s fun and social; for others it’s a desperate cry for affirmation and approval. Whatever the motive, let’s be clear:

Selfies are not the same as self love.

For many teenagers, the selfie is fed by a desire to be loved, accepted, approved and acknowledged. Validation becomes their highest need – and without it, there can be anxiety and despair.

“Validation becomes their highest need –

and without it, there can be anxiety and despair.”

Does anybody like me?

In the 2021 MyStrengths Youth Wellbeing Report, over 10,000 teens were surveyed and 40% of them reported that they feel like social media helps their friendships and improves their connectedness. However, 24% said they felt it damaged their self esteem or was not good for them. 42% of teenage girls report that they worry about the way they look, and the same number experience low self-esteem. Almost 25% of young men feel it too, and over 30% are actively worried about what other people think of them. In many ways, they use social media as the litmus test for popularity. It becomes a vehicle for finding acceptance, belonging and validation.

A short cut to self-love

As an adolescent therapist, I wish “likes” and popularity would bring self-love and contentedness. We could skip the hard yards of character formation and identity search and just get strategizing on popularity growth. In fact, if 1000 likes instantly meant higher confidence and self love, then I would personally pay the boost for every teen to get what they need – what a great use of money! Once the target is reached, WOO! A content, secure and loved young person.

But it doesn’t happen.

The reality is that forming our identity and self-love is complicated and hard work. There are many layers to our “self” and we are all on the journey of working out who we are and where we get our sense of value and self-worth.

3 building blocks for self-love

For parents and educators, there are a couple of very concrete, practical things we can do to enhance a teenager’s self-worth and security. We might think of these as building blocks for self-love rather than a formula that works every time.

1. Affirmation

Self-worth grows when a teenager senses that they are loved, respected, admired and affirmed – just they way they are.

Teens need to be constantly told that, “you are valuable; you have what it takes; I believe in you; and there’s nothing you can do to make me stop loving you.” We do this easily for younger children, but it’s not so instinctive when it comes to teens. However, it’s just as important. Your voice becomes their inner script. If they are constantly reminded of what they are getting wrong, where they are causing trouble or how they don’t measure up, it will affect they way they feel about themselves. Many educators and parents buy into the idea that if we don’t tell them where they are going wrong, they will be ignorant and not realise. But the truth is, most of our feedback is heavily weighted toward deficit, weakness and negativity and we struggle to affirm and build up the teens in our life. Affirmation is key.

2. Adopt a strengths focus

Most teens know their weaknesses, but how many know their strengths? Every teenager has strengths. They are each unique and different. It’s incredibly powerful and formative to help a teenager identify what some of their best personality traits are. They will be different from you, but instead of this being frustrating or annoying, it can be a point of celebration and understanding. As adults, we can help teens discover their strengths, focus on them, grow them and encourage them. If we need a starting point, have your teen take the MyStrengths Assessment to discover their Top 5 Strengths – then use this as a catalyst for discussing and celebrating their uniqueness.

3. Develop your own healthy self-image

Values are caught and not taught. A great question is: What do my kids hear me say about myself? So many of us are critical of our own looks, ability or intellect. I hear many adults calling themselves fat or ugly, dumb or stupid. This may seem harmless, but teenagers are learning by osmosis. The way you view the world, yourself and your body is really important in forming their own self-talk and self-image. They learn what is normal from you – and if it is self-critique, perfectionism and put down, that becomes their norm.


  • Even if your teenager shows a disregard for your affection, don’t take your foot off the peddle;
  • Even if they appear over-confident, don’t knock them back to earth;
  • Even if they shoot too many selfies, don’t mistake it for self-love.


Dan Hardie


PS. I go deeper on how to address screen time, social media and self esteem in the Raising Resilience parenting course. We filmed this course to help you address the key issues and get better results. Hundreds of parents have taken this course – join them to get ahead of the mental health challenges.

Raising Resilience will teach you how to help your teen face obstacles and get through


To help parents raise resilient and confident teens, we have created a range of short parenting courses.

Topics include overcoming anxiety, regulating anger and big emotions, family fighting and more.

MyStrengths supports schools to put strengths at the centre of their well-being program. We do this through school workshops and staff training.

Enquire now to help every student discover and live their top 5 strengths.

We run training for anyone working with young people who wants to help them discover their top 5 strengths.

This is perfect for school welfare teams, social workers, counsellors, church workers, life coaches and more. Sign up for one of our upcoming training days.