Thursday, January 17, 2008

Generation Conceited?

Probably not:

"Conventional wisdom, supported by academic studies using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, maintains that today’s young people — schooled in the church of self-esteem, vying for spots on reality television, promoting themselves on YouTube — are more narcissistic than their predecessors.

"Heck, they join Facebook groups like the Association for Justified Narcissism. A study released last year by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press dubbed Americans age 18 to 25 as the “Look at Me” generation and reported that this group said that their top goals were fortune and fame."

I remember reading the Pew study from last year and being surprised by its results, mainly because my experience with students of the Millennial Generation (the 80 million kids born 1980-1999) didn't square with those findings. I also remember reading blurbs from Jean Twenge's "Generation Me", where she contends that cultural phrases such as "believe in yourself and anything is possible" are "purely narcissistic," and rolling my eyes.

Now I know why.

"Despite exhibiting some signs of self-obsession, young Americans are not more self-absorbed than earlier generations, according to new research challenging the prevailing wisdom. “There’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Kali H. Trzesniewski, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario.

Ms. Trzesniewski, along with colleagues at the University of California, Davis, and Michigan State University, will publish research in the journal Psychological Science next month showing there have been very few changes in the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of youth over the last 30 years."

Naturally. As the article points out, there is a "cottage industry" out there filled with people making a lot of money "putting down and complaining about" teenagers and young adults. That cottage industry, like the lack of change amongst teens and young adults, is also nothing new.

Teenagers and young adults, as we discuss in juvenile delinquency, have always been marginalized in society, going all the way back to at least Plato, who infamously wrote, "What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"

Sound familiar? The entire "kids today!" mantra has been with us since at least hunters and gatherers, and "kids today" are not much different than they have been for thousands of years.

From the vantage point of adulthood (say, beyond 30 years old) all behavior by teens and 20-somethings appears to be "selfish" and "narcissistic" because, frankly, what you are doing during those years is "all about you." Your personality and sense of self is constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed, many times, over and over during those years. It's called socialization and establishing your identity. It's called growing up.

Incidentally, you can sample the NPI (Narcissistic Personality Inventory) and scroll through some of the questions used. Just for kicks, I answered those on page 894 and scored a 100% ;>

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