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Who Will Take Care of You?

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Ever wonder who will take care of you in your frailty? Today's kids and young adults are exposed to a poisonous "culture of narcissism" that is depriving them of empathy, which in turn threatens the future of caregiving, when millions of aging boomers will need it, says Amy Ziettlow of, the website of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values

She points to a 2009 book by Drs. Drew Pinsky and S. Mark Young called The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America. The authors describe the culture of reality TV, "celebutantes," YouTube, gossip blogs, and the like and make the case that celebrity narcissism (love of one's self) is infecting the kids and young adults who absorb these examples as entertainment.

Pinsky describes a key element to narcissistic behavior as "chronic empathic failure: the ability or willingness to recognize, perceive, and relate to the emotions of another person, to experience the world from another's point of view"¦empathy develops over time, reinforced constantly by positive experiences of emotional attunement with others"¦." The young generation risks "favoring self promotion over helping others" and may have a harder time forming relationships, he says.

"This reality has huge implications, all seemingly negative, as we will soon face an age where our need for empathic and self-sacrificing elder caregivers will be unprecedented," the Family Scholars author notes.

Yet things aren't hopeless, she says. Teenagers are naturally narcissistic due to their age and stage of brain development. "They learn to mirror the behavior and attitudes of those around them, be those of celebrities or those of real people who are genuinely engaging with the world, surrounding themselves with a wide range of people, learning to empathize, and being of service."

She gives the example of a teenager who worked at her hospice and was transformed by the experience. ("I had no idea dying people would be just like me," he told her.)

Seen in that way, caregivers offer a shining example to this vulnerable generation, at least when they get to see it up close: Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Image by Flickr user Josef Ma. Rosel, used under a {Creative Commons ;icense](