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The Perils of the Pretty Child

Often when we think of beautiful children we think of the advantages they must have over less attractive children. They get the attention of their families and extended families, as well as of teachers and others in their lives. They are often the first to be picked for a team or a play or a project. And from an early age they attract the attention of boys and girls.

But there is dark side to being an attractive child. The attractive child is more likely to be spoiled or exploited by parents and competed with by siblings. The attractive child is more likely to arouse envy from peers. And the attractive child is more likely to be a kidnap victim.

Below are seven problems of beautiful children.

One: The “Stage Mother” Syndrome. Sometimes parents pick a certain attractive child to live out their frustrated fantasies. The child thus loses any chance to individuate and find their true selves; instead they become a pawn to the parents. JonBenét Ramsay was an attractive six-year-old whose mother, Patsy Ramsay, trained her to be a child beauty pageant queen. Tragically, she was killed in her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado on the night of December 25–26, 19969 (by her jealous older brother, some have speculated). Even if such children (sometimes called narcissistic extensions) grow up they invariably have problems, because this syndrome stymies their normal development.

Two: Kidnappings. Although no official statistics are kept with regard to how many child kidnap victims are attractive children, it becomes apparent if you follow the news that many if not most kidnap victims are attractive. Attractive children are the ones who are kidnapped and often sexually abused and killed by pedophiles. And they are also the children that are kidnapped by the so-called “human traffic” trade. Young, attractive girls are preferred because they are likely to make more money for the human traffic exporter. The more attractive they are, the more they satisfy the antisocial anger that drives a person to engage in this kind of atrocity.

Three: The Cinderella Syndrome. Attractive children are more likely to be favored by their parents and provoke the jealousy of their siblings. I call this the Cinderella Syndrome. In this famous children’s story, Cinderella is an attractive young girl who is favored by her father over her two stepsisters. When the father dies, the stepsisters and their mother persecute Cinderella. This often happens in real life when a child is more attractive or more talented than her siblings and is favored because of it. The child who endures the Cinderella Syndrome doesn’t end up with a prince; instead he or she ends up developing emotional problems due to the abuse of jealous siblings.

Four: Sexual Abuse. Because they are attractive children, they are more likely to be sexually abused. According to statistics, most sexual abuse of children is perpetuated by members of the child’s family, extended family, friends, or other people they know. The attractive child stands out and is the obvious target of such abuse. When children are sexually abused, they suffer irreparable damage to their sense of self. Sometimes the perpetuator sexually exploits a child in the guise of love, leaving the child confused, guilty and angry. Sometimes the abuse is done in a more brutal way, which leaves even more traumatic scars and has a life-long effect on the person’s personality, causing the victim to be out of kilter in their adult relations.

Five: The Oedipus Complex. Sometimes an attractive child is drawn into a close-binding relationship with a parent during the Oedipal stage of development. During this stage, according to Freud, from ages three to six, every child wants to take the opposite-sex parent away from the same-sex parent. If the child actually “wins” the opposite-sex parent away from the same-sex parent, Freud referred to this child as “an Oedipal conqueror.” Such children may end up being Mama’s boys or Daddy’s girls. They will hence be impeded from separating and individuating adequately from their parents and developing their true selves.

Six: Spoiling. It is the attractive child who most often become spoiled. Being the target of attention from both parents, the child can use his or her cuteness to make demands. They learn that they can get whatever they want by putting on the charm or stamping their feet in a temper tantrum. Hence they grow up to feel entitled. It is one thing for a child to develop healthy self-esteem, but these children develop a narcissistic feeling of entitlement. When they are adults they can become quite abuse; since they never heard the word “no” as they were growing up, they become adult who have no boundaries and don’t respect other people’s boundaries. They feel entitled to say and act however they want, no matter whose toes they stop on. They can cause problems for them and others.

Seven: Over-Protection. The attractive child will often be the one who is most over-protected. Since parents are often unconsciously most drawn to this child, they will often be most nervous of this child. The over-protectiveness come from a need to cling to this child. This especially rears its head during a girl’s adolescence, when boys come calling and the parents are threatened by this and become overly strict and even jealous (unconsciously) of the gentlemen callers. This causes the child develop abnormally, not trusting her own judgment and not being able to take care of herself. Sometimes it leads to rebelliousness and an inability find her center.

The Perils of the Pretty Child

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

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APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2017). The Perils of the Pretty Child. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2018, from


Last updated: 9 Dec 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Dec 2017
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