The following opinion essay by Anne Perkins, titled  “When self-love is out of control” was published July 27, 2009 in The Guardian.

By Anne Perkins
The astonishing leap in the number of calls from boys to the NSPCC’s ChildLine deserves deconstructing. According to the charity’s own analysis, it has doubled to nearly 60,000 calls in the past five years.

The reason may partly lie in the breakdown of the statistics. The biggest reason for seeking help, or at least someone to confide in, is bullying, as it was in 2003 when ChildLine last published an analysis. But the biggest proportional jump is among older boys who feel lonely and unloved, followed by boys seeking advice about sex.

I used to think that boys and girls who bully were insecure themselves. I thought they homed in on kids who look vulnerable — or just different — to boost their own egos. I’m not so sure now.

Madeleine Bunting wrote persuasively this morning that narcissism and the age of entitlement has made women more rather than less unhappy. Maybe that’s just as true of boys. Narcissism isn’t only about over-inflated self-esteem (watch the psychologist Jean Twenge discuss her book on the US breakfast show Today earlier this year), it’s about a disregard for other people.

The atomised “because I’m worth it” generation — and survey after survey shows soaring self-esteem among student populations — put themselves first and the rest nowhere. Narcissism devalues empathy and co-operation and elevates rivalry and coming out on top, the permanent contest for external verification of an internal assessment of self-worth that simultaneously denies the salutary lessons of failure.

For the curious thing about extreme self-love is its corollary of dissatisfaction and anger when it is not reflected back by society. If the narcissist fails, this is not an opportunity to reflect on where you went wrong and how to be smarter next time. On the contrary, it is nothing to do with you, because you are “worth it”. Your failure must be someone else’s fault. Read the full commentary

Earlier posts to the “Commentary” page:

July 10, 2009: “School Bullying Getting Severe” (

July 8, 2009: “Parents must lead the way in correcting bullying” (The Enid, Okla., News and Eagle)

July 7, 2009: The Global Village Has Its Idiots (Cape Cod Times)

June 27, 2009: Victims become bullies: Teaching children to fight back


3 Responses

  1. I dont you can protect your kids from everything that happens to them. As much as you’d like to you just cant sometimes they have to face things on there own. Kids will be kids and they do sometimes do cruel thing. Maybe make him take a self defence course?? There are situations where kids do need to stand up for themselves

    • Thanks Cate. I agree. In this case, my son was the bystander, not either of the kids in the fight. I was very proud of him. He did what we’d discussed — he hollered out to the camp counselors for help to stop the fight. So in that situation the bully discussions we’ve had paid off. Thanks for your comment!

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