The Washington Post of 21 May 2006 carried an article entitled, “Big Babies: Think the Boomers are self-absorbed? Wait until you meet their kids.” It is a review of a new book by Jean M. Twenge, called: “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before”. Read the review here. Buy the book or download the eBook at Amazon.com or Kalahari.net.
According to Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, when it comes to unbridled self-interest, even the self-absorbed Boomer Generation pales in comparison to its spawn: three decades of coddled kids whose untrammeled egos are now running amok in our schools and workplaces….
Children born in the last 30 years, she argues, have been taught that feeling good about yourself is the most important thing in life. Self-love is not so much a goal as a birthright, affirmed by the cloying lyrics of a hit 1986 Whitney Houston song (“learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”). Old-fashioned values like hard work and skill have been cast aside in favor of giving everyone a gold star — because they’re good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like them!
The daily affirmations aren’t limited to school. Members of what Twenge calls the most wanted generation in history — thanks to advances in birth control — are told that they can be whatever their hearts desire. In this age of celebrity worship, the preferred career track is wealth and fame (talent notwithstanding). Desiring is the same as deserving — as evidenced by the “American Idol” phenomenon, in which tuneless singers reject the verdict of the more discriminating judges and howl about their greatness, as their cowed parents nod in agreement. (Twenge might as well have dubbed these budding narcissists “Generation Moi,” à la Miss Piggy.)
Citing similar data to that deployed in Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner’s Quarterlife Crisis, Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin’s Midlife Crisis at 30, Charles J. Sykes’s A Nation of Victims and other cautionary tales about today’s youth, Twenge argues that overweening ambition is on a collision course with diminished possibilities. College is more competitive and expensive than ever, she writes; good jobs are fewer and often pay less; the costs of housing, health insurance and child care continue to spiral. Far from becoming millionaire rapper playboys with their own clothing lines, these kids will be lucky to squeak into the middle class….
Nor are crushed hopes Generation Me’s only burden. High self-esteem doesn’t correlate with achievement, according to Twenge; nor does it correlate to lower rates of drug use or teen pregnancy. Indeed, she attributes a spectrum of questionable attitudes and behaviors to the cult of individuality, from cheating on tests and shoplifting to political apathy and traffic violations. If the highest authority is your own volition, anything that contradicts your wishes is suspect, whether it’s a school rule or a stop sign.
Twenge also blames the quest for self-expression for body art, lavish weddings and mass consumerism, as well as a more casual approach to sex — or, in the parlance of Generation Me, “hooking up.” But lest certain talk-radio hosts seize on Twenge’s work to urge a return to the “seen, not heard” days of child-rearing, she also identifies some uniquely positive qualities of Generation Me. It embraces diversity of race, religion and sexual identity — a logical extension of the belief that everyone should be “free to be you and me.”
Twenge’s theory sometimes overreaches in an effort to explain every aspect of every action of every young person, but such are the perils of popular social science. For anyone who, like Twenge, has had to work with some young thing expecting a smooth ride to the top regardless of performance, her arguments will make a lot of intuitive sense. Even if only half of what Twenge suggests is true, this book should be required reading for parents-to-be — lest the next wave of little darlings turn out even worse.
Read the full review online here.