Generation Me http://www.generationme.org/data.html http://genme.livejournal.com/ Jean Twenge Author, Psychology Researcher, Professor, and Speaker If you've read or heard about generations, you've probably heard the current crop of young people (born after 1982) described as "Millienials." (A term I'm not sure will stick ... remember Y2K? Barely? Exactly). Some people have advanced the theory that this generation is civically minded and group-oriented. However, there is very little evidence that this is true. Instead, the analyses highlighted in Generation Me (based on historical survey data on over 1.3 million people) show clearly that younger generations are more individualistic and are higher in self-esteem and narcissism. There have been no changes in "communal" traits. These are not anecdotal observations -- they are based on young people's responses to psychological questionnaires over many decades. The piece of evidence often given to support the "civicallyoriented" agrument is the rise in youth volunteering. Yes, increasing numbers of high school and college students report that they have volunteered their time in the last year. However, the trend for those who volunteer their time once a week or more is completely flat, and the number who volunteer once a month has barely budged (maybe 3-5%). (These data come from the "Monitoring the Future" survey out of the University of Michigan). So young people volunteer, but they do it once or only a few times. This might be because many high schools and colleges require community service (or colleges like to see it on admissions applications). So even the rise in short-term volunteering might instead be "involuntary volunteering." It's great that more young people are volunteering, whatever the reason. But it doesn't seem to be a sustained activity -- and in many cases it's not even voluntary. One of the fun things about writing a book is hearing from readers. I got an e-mail recently from a reader who heard Dr. Wayne Dyer say, “The best thing about Jesus was that he had a mom that believed he was the son of God. Imagine how much better the world would be if all of our moms thought that way.” God, no! Imagine how much *worse* the world would be if we were all raised to believe that we were the second coming of Christ and that the world revolved around us. Of course we want to raise confident kids, but not narcissistic kids who think that they are God's gift to the world no matter how they behave. I guess I shouldn't be so shocked to see this type of statement, given the current emphasis on self-esteem building, but this is beyond the pale. Previous generations believed that if you were brought up "too high," you would be arrogant, self-centered, and difficult to get along with (sound familiar?). They probably could have done with more emotional expression back then, but current parenting philosophies have clearly gone too far in the other direction. We are telling kids they are special (and thus deserve special treatment) and that they shouldn't care what others think (so why should they be considerate?) We are not all Jesus. Get over it. Ana Marie Cox (aka the Wonkette, aka someone who I should have known at U of Chicago but somehow didn't) recently wrote a column in Time magazine about the MTV show "My Super Sweet 16." If you have not had the nauseating pleasure, this is a show about very rich, very spoiled kids whose parents spend half a million dollars on their birthday parties. When I mention it in the book, I point out that the irony of rich kids whining is likely to slip past the typical 15-year-old watching the show. Sure enough, one of my undergrads tells me her sister was disappointed with her perfectly nice 16th birthday party because it did not approach the excesses of this show. All I could do is shake my head. At any rate, Cox's column focuses on how these youngsters want to be like celebrities. A few lines from the column: "Their blingy flings are not celebrations of accomplishment; they're celebrations of self." "Each guest of honor is really after only one thing: 'I feel famous. I love it,' says one." "Far from joining polite society like the debutates of the past, the kids gleefully rip through social graces, alienating friends and sacrificing tact." I love pop culture analyses like this, but it's even more interesting to take it a little deeper: *Why* do these teens act this way? I'm sure there are multiple causes. At least one is the underlying psychology I lay out in _Generation Me_: the ever-present emphasis on the self that often crosses over into narcissism. The obsession with becoming famous or acting like a celebrity plays right into that -- the need for recognition is a subscale on the narcissism inventory (Items: "I wish someone would someday write my biography"," "I like to be the center of attention.") Other possibilities -- Is American society more materialistic now than it was, say, 30 years ago? Or is it something else? If you saw the Today show, you saw that I tussled a little with the other guest about the statement "You have to love yourself before you can love someone else." She clearly believed this statement, and I bet if you did a poll you would find that the majority of Americans believe it too. Of course, there's no evidence to support that it's true. Narcissists -- people who really love themselves -- are horrible relationship partners. My friend Keith wrote a great book on this (called _When You Love a Man Who Loves Himself_). Narcissists lack empathy; they play games; they cheat. And as Keith also likes to say, "If I had to name the top ten things necessary for a good relationship, loving yourself would not be on the list." That's because most of the time, a good relationship requires *not* putting yourself first. Good marriages are based on compromise. And I don't think it's any coincidence that the divorce rate has stayed high (despire people marrying later, and thus probably wiser) at the same time that the self-emphasis has grown. Previous generations didn't worry much about loving themselves. Some research does show that low self-esteem people are more likely to doubt their partner's affection, but this doesn't mean that they love their partner any less, and they don't choose bad partners (contrary to another popular belief). And high self- esteem people aren't much better -- they get mean and defensive when they are challenged. Much more important for relationship success is called attachment style, which is about how you (rather than your self-feelings). Having a good attachment styles predicts relationship success the self-esteem of the partners. a variable relate to others match of much better than The popularity of this statement might have started in therapy sessions, where people with serious addictions were told that they needed to get themselves together first before they started a relationship. But that's not the same as loving yourself first, and there's no reason it needs to apply to everyone. http://www.aarpmagazine.org/books/generation_me.html?print=yes Web-Exclusive Book Review Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable—Than Ever Before By Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. (Free Press, 2006) Review by Aaron Shulman, January 2006 As a 23-year-old American who considers himself mildly confident and assertive but neither miserable nor entitled, I was curious to see what Jean M. Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor in her mid-30s, had to say in her new book, Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable—Than Ever Before. Twenge saddles herself with the task of describing the defining characteristics of the children of Baby Boomers born from 1970 to the end of the 20th century, a group she terms Generation Me. The members of this generation, while remarkably diverse in many respects, share a unifying aspect: we are "unapologetically focused on the individual," a trait inherited from our Boomer parents and fanned to extremes by the culture they engendered. While no one—especially a generation raised to worship individualism—likes to have their sameness within a group pointed out to them, I was struck by how consistently Twenge's generalizations about GenMe rang true about me and most of my friends. We think of work more as a path toward self-fulfillment than as a means to a stable livelihood; we feel we can have it all and believe in "following our dreams" and doing things our own way; we heed social rules and figures of authority only insofar as they don't get in our way; and we view our 20s as a period to bounce around and "find ourselves" because otherwise we won't be ready for married family life in our late 20s and early 30s. As to whether these trends are good or bad, Twenge only occasionally makes an outright judgment, letting her research instead speak for itself. And most of the time her research convincingly shows—though it never hurts to be reminded that her data and sources are selectively mediated by her— that these developments have no small hand in creating the doldrums of the book's subtitle. AARP: Lifestyle Information for People 50 and Over The entertaining and informative content on AARPmagazine.org is just one of the many benefits of AARP membership—only $12.50 a year. Join or renew online today! In sketching out how these conditions came to be, Twenge tells an engaging story, fueled and supported by a solid base of data, illustrative quotes from her and others' research, and barometric examples from TV shows, movies, comics, and advertisements. She explains how the defiance of authority and shirking of social approval pioneered by Boomers in the '60s and '70s was subsumed by the mainstream and incorporated into the status quo, informing GenMe's Weltanschauung. Twenge also serves up a well argued critique of the self-esteem industry in the United States, which she says has a narcissistic-tinged ethos that is harming America's youth vastly more than it helps. Throughout the book, her analyses of myriad topics articulated a number of ideas on the tip of my mind's tongue, getting me to think about myself and my parents, as well the culture we come from and help create. Generation Me is cogent, thoughtful, and fun to read, but over the course of the book I couldn't shake my discomfort with the sensationalistic use of the word miserable to describe my generation. In spite of all the dispiriting trends that dog GenMe—depression, crushing disappointment when the real world doesn't deliver on the things we've been taught to expect, credit card debt, mountainous student loans, divorce-like breakups, rising health-insurance premiums and real estate prices, estrangement from the community—to say we're miserable seems to preclude resilience. Yes, GenMe must confront some bleak obstacles, but doesn't every generation? Thinking of ourselves as miserable doesn't seem to be a move in the right direction. Twenge does realize this, in a sense, and closes her book with prescriptive optimism: "Generation Me needs realistic expectations, careful career guidance, and assistance when we become parents. In return, we will gladly lend our energy and ambition toward our work and toward helping others." Aaron Shulman recently left his job at AARP to work on a novel, while freelancing on the side.