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Gen Y narcissism? - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Gen Y narcissism?
Someone at JF linked to a Chicago Trib story about Gen Y's narcissism.

37 comments or Leave a comment
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: February 28th, 2007 01:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Convenient that they only started testing *after* it was too late to measure the Baby Boomers...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 28th, 2007 03:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I noticed that. The generation that even in castigating itself comes up with stuff like, "We were the generation that could have changed the world, and instead we [did whatever the person dislikes most]." Dudes, every generation changes the word. Get over yourselves.
stephantom From: stephantom Date: February 28th, 2007 01:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Wait, what age exactly is Gen Y? I thought we were the Echo Boomers? Is that the same?

Anyway. I... It's interesting, but I'm not sure about it. There may be a lot of focus on oneself, but I'm not sure it's all as positive as they're indicating. That is, it's not just, "I'm so great!" but more like um, bravado, possibly? Focus on the self, but in a negative sense as well? It just really hasn't been my experience with my peers - I've observed a lot of insecurity and a lot of depression in my generation, actually, so in a way I'm surprised by the reports of tests showing inflated egos. And the anecdotes of obnoxious people... Haven't there always been a fair number of obnoxious, self-interested cutthroats around?
verdenia From: verdenia Date: March 3rd, 2007 12:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
In general, Gen Y = Echo Boomers, but to be more specific, the EBs are the children of Baby Boomers, whereas GY is simply what came after Gen X.

So, my youngest siblings, I would call gen Y, b/c our parents were [barely] too old to be Boomers.
stephantom From: stephantom Date: March 5th, 2007 01:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, I see. Thanks for clearing that up. I'm both then, I guess.
ladyvorkosigan From: ladyvorkosigan Date: February 28th, 2007 01:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Eh, Today's Youth have been sending the world to hell in a handbasket for milennia now - can't expect today's generation to be any different.

(And I don't notice my peers being any more narcissistic than people I've observed of my parent's generation; often, they seem less so, but I suspect that's because they've had less time to decide the world is really all about them).
shuttafly From: shuttafly Date: February 28th, 2007 02:38 am (UTC) (Link)
As an extroverted student at a major state university who doesn't walk around constantly plugged into an iPod/cell bubble, I can certainly place their descriptions of student behavior. The students in my Finance classes are almost overwhelmingly mediocre box-checkers who don't care about knowledge for its own sake (or for true improvement of others' and their own lives). It's all about what's on the exam so we can put in some rote memorization and drink it away immediately afterwards, how cheap the Smokin'Notes (equivalent of Cliffs Notes for any subject) are, etc. (Geez, I sound cynical!) There's a lot of coldness, a lot of self-absorption, and a lot of disrespect. But there are also people who genuinely believe in hard work, have grounded moral centers, and reach out to touch others, in this same university. I think that society has become more fostering and certainly more forgiving of this mentality, but that good parenting, a lot of it, and early, is paramount in a child's life. It may be a trend, but it doesn't have to be that way for individuals.

"Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before." This struck a chord with me. But I believe the part after the hyphen is what they should be focusing on. The title implies a direct link from confidence and assertiveness (which are both fantastic traits!) to misery, but qualifies it in the actual story: they're being taught to go through the motions of confidence and to assert without any real backbone, because they're not being given any foundation. It's all about the achievement without the hard work. It's all about the destination with no journey at all--and they don't know what's missing, because they've never had a qualifying process. That's probably why their confidence rings more than a little hollow.

I'm Maia, by the way. It's about time I introduced myself--I've been reading your Remus/Tonks stories for well over a year now! Thank you for them.

stephantom From: stephantom Date: February 28th, 2007 02:49 am (UTC) (Link)
As an extroverted student at a major state university who doesn't walk around constantly plugged into an iPod/cell bubble

Does constantly using an ipod and cell phone, and blogging and stuff, really correlate to narcissism? It's isolating, sure, I don't understand who isolation can cause any real confidence. Maybe a warped sense of confidence in some individuals, but I'm not sure it's really related to the overall picture. (And I'm not just responding to you - the article seemed to be implying this, I thought.)

-an introverted student at a small hippie college who does walk around in an ipod/cell bubble
shuttafly From: shuttafly Date: February 28th, 2007 03:11 am (UTC) (Link)
No, narcissism and isolation among others don't necessarily correspond...but having spent times where I listened to my mp3 player on campus, I found that I personally focused much less on others or any external concerns when I did so. Another trend, however few data points I have, that I've noticed, is that people who don't have all the apparati attached are more likely to make eye contact with others, smile, engage you in conversation, and simply show consideration in ways such as holding the door (or not running you over).

I don't think it's central to the issue. Just another small symptom. And while A (narcissism) probably implies B (manifestation--isolated techno-world), B could have many other causes, such as natural introversion.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 28th, 2007 03:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I'm not sure that the bubble itself indicates narcissism. Maybe social fragmentation at the extreme end, but not narcissism. I'd be more concerned about the "I'm the best!" attitude, which we can see in play in places like American Idol where it's clear that people don't have a realistic idea of who they are and what their talents are, but I'm not convinced by surveys. I know a whole lot of talented kids who just shrug and take their talent for granted, and talk about being not very smart or just okay at something.
ladyvorkosigan From: ladyvorkosigan Date: February 28th, 2007 03:21 am (UTC) (Link)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 28th, 2007 03:19 am (UTC) (Link)
This struck a chord with me. But I believe the part after the hyphen is what they should be focusing on. The title implies a direct link from confidence and assertiveness (which are both fantastic traits!) to misery, but qualifies it in the actual story: they're being taught to go through the motions of confidence and to assert without any real backbone, because they're not being given any foundation.

I'm very curious to read the book now, because that I've noticed. A lot. I believe in me! Now... who am I, again? I knew I could do it! What did I do? And a lot of the things that in the past have been individual triumphs have become so engineered by adults that it's hard to imagine taking a lot of pride in it. I look at the Peace Corps people in the sixties, putting on bright scarves and going to villages to dig wells, and you can see taking some pride in it. Then I look at City Year, doing organized calisthenics every morning and chanting slogans, then going to staff programs mostly created by other people, and I think--is that something you can really feel like you've built?

(Of course, my generation--Gen X--was the micro-volunteer generation--we'll help someone who's in our reach, and we'll share our take-out with a homeless guy, and let down-on-their-luck friends crash for a while, but in terms of big programs? Not, generationally, our cuppa.)

Hi, Maia. Glad to meet you!
onionsarelife From: onionsarelife Date: February 28th, 2007 03:09 am (UTC) (Link)
oh man. These articles make me so mad! How the crap are you supposed to make judgements on an ENTIRE generation from a few surveys that people were probably forced to take in the first place and did a half-ass job on?

In any case, I don't believe that my generation is any more big headed than generations of the past. Our generations is SO MUCH BETTER.(haha i'm totally kidding :P)
dreamcoat_mom From: dreamcoat_mom Date: February 28th, 2007 03:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah - this is one of my favorite subjects as of late, because I attended a week-end workshop on working with millenials in the library setting, and I learned a great deal about this generation's profile.

As the parent of millenials, I can tell you that they have had little choice, and really, so have we. From the time they were born these children were required by federal law and cultural pressures to be belted in, padded up, helmeted, micro-managed and scheduled to within an inch of their lives. Even so-called "free time" was so heavily structured, that their ability to think independently and critically was never developed - yet there is a great deal of hand-wringing at the university level because they didn't magically acquire the skill upon graduation from high school!

These "narcissistic tendencies" are a natural offshoot of knowing that their parents' schedules revolve around their own, that mom and dad are required by the school system and the culture to be completely involved in the minutiae of their day, which is planned out from rising to bedtime. Do you know what the number one "leisure activity" was among a poll of 100 high school seniors? Sleep. Sleep - a leisure activity! When a child's day leaves little room for exploring their world or for free-flowing human interaction and their parents and educators have been restrained from damaging their self-esteem with criticism, the result is going to have to be a focus on the self, both positive and negative. (The negative aspects of it were never mentioned in today's news story, interestingly enough.)

That said, I think that they will grow up to be a formidable generation in spite of themselves. Along with the things I've mentioned above, they've been taught to think more globally than we ever did. They know how to work as part of a team, and to work pretty hard. They certainly know how to put in a long day. They respect and rely on the adults in their lives more than we did, and because of that, they don't want to let us down. They believe in themselves, and though that might translate to mediocrity at the moment, I think maturity will force them to raise their standards. After all, I don't remember being particularly driven or even wholly responsible at that age, either.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 28th, 2007 03:50 am (UTC) (Link)
That's an excellent observation. I've been increasingly horrified for years at the micromanagement. Yes, it probably wasn't all that safe for myself and four cousins to be sitting, unstrapped, on the wheel wells in an open plan van, but you know what? We all lived to adulthood anyway. And I've had to learn that if you want kids to attend something, you have to schedule it months in advance, because they're "booked." And yet, when you ask, "What do you like when you're not at school?"--a frequent question to help kids who've suddenly been told to write a report on "a biography" or even "something that interests you"--the answer is less of a bored, 80s-teenager "I dunno" than a truly baffled "I don't know!" I keep feeling like Maria in The Sound of Music: "But, Captain... when do they play, sir?" Only the pre-Maria von Trapp kids in that movie look easygoing and content in comparison.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 28th, 2007 04:07 am (UTC) (Link)
yet there is a great deal of hand-wringing at the university level because they didn't magically acquire the skill upon graduation from high school!

And when they do make an attempt, it often seems to be off-kilter, dumping them into "Write about something that interests you" with no guidance at all about what might make a good essay topic, or what might not have enough meat on its bones to get you through. There's no guidance in subject areas at all (my favorite remains the teacher who suggested finding a book with "better diction," though the close second was the teacher who browbeat a student for several generations until he discovered that he couldn't "really" be from South Carolina, because she wanted him to do a report on the foreign country that his ancestors came from... which isn't an easy trick for a black family from the South, not to put historical context on the question, and was hardly fair when his classmates just had to go home and talk to their first generation immigrant parents!). There's no sense of gradation, of teaching them to evaluate topics a little bit at a time, no sense of finding subjects that fit the scope of the time and space to research them. And I strongly suspect, given some of the teachers I see, taht the grades are less on how well a paper is put together than on whether or not the student comes to the "proper" conclusions. My generation seemed kind of surprised to get to college and discover people who were trying to impose speech codes and wanted to establish "politically correct" readings. Some went for it, but the concept of speech codes by itself was enough to mobilize the entire conservative campus movement of the late 80s and early 90s... how dare people try to gag me? We had our college president flying back from a fund-raising tour in Europe to consult with Harvard legal scholars, then go ballistic on the Dean of Students for going crazy. (He was an old French Resistance fighter, and one didn't mess with him.) We might have been apathetic about most things, but not that. Even the people in favor of it weren't apathetically accepting it--they just fervently believed, somehow or other, that restricting speech would make more freedom.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 28th, 2007 04:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Oops, forgot to finish that thought, which is to say, when I checked in on campus issues, very few students seem to really bother with the speech codes. Or be bothered by them. Because, as you say, they're used to being micromanaged. Now, they seem to be hiring a lot of outside firms to complain on their behalf! I just want to say to them, "Don't bring in a lawyer, for God's sake. Write articles! Chalk up the campus! Get a soapbox and a megaphone!" But then, the lawyers all seem anxious to get in there and keep swinging in the fight, so they encourage it.


I miss my old college president.
akilika From: akilika Date: February 28th, 2007 06:13 am (UTC) (Link)
What are these requirements? I'm only twenty--I *think* I probably qualify--yet all of these things seem rather alien to me. It seems that single parenthood at the very least would make it very difficult to require these sorts of things across the board. It doesn't work.

It wouldn't surprise me to think that the government, the school system, and social services think that we're all middle-class people with moms and dads and all of the time and money in the world to make sure we can suffocate our children within an inch of their lives. But I'd at the very least like to know who to vote against.
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: February 28th, 2007 07:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd rather people had too much confidence than too little. It's easy for the world to take confidence from people but it rarely gives it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 28th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
The problem is that it's false confidence, and false confidence is a lot easier to undermine. If you have confidence based on actual accomplishments, a single failure won't be much of a blow--you can always get up, dust yourself off, and try again. But if you've got this bloated, egotistical kind of fake confidence, a single failure can point out that there's nothing holding up your entire self-image, and it can be disastrous. (I look at things like the rise of self-publishing, where people are literally paying money to make sure that they don't go through the rounds of rejection... and the books are pretty uniformly awful. And the scam artists who run the companies hit exactly the right note: "No one else has the right to judge whether or not your book is good! Only you can really know how special your story is!" Smart move on their part. Way to scoop up money from writers desperate to not risk having the ego-balloon popped.)
singingtopsy From: singingtopsy Date: February 28th, 2007 07:12 am (UTC) (Link)
As a Millenial at a prestigious, large, and competitive state school, I do see some of the cookie-cutter Gen Y characteristics in my classmates, but I thought this article was silly.
Narcissism is a nice, loaded word to bandy around, but pathological narcissism is a specific disorder, and while the article does say that they don't think that more college students need treatment for NPD (not that it would help, since NPD patients are almost impossible to treat), the evidence they cite doesn't really line up with a viable way to diagnose narcissism, and the authors obviously don't care: they'd rather call a whole generation of young people "narcissists" instead of engaging in the underlying conditions and problems of Gen Y, just to have something new to write an article about.
You know, I'm an introverted and knowledge-hungry young woman at a very liberal school and this article frankly made me want to defend my more mundane, conservative peers! The authors are concerned that today's students are more likely to worry about their financial success than developing a "philosophy of life." Wow! Today's youth have the same priorities as the rest of American society! How utterly shocking! And I cannot BELIEVE that we get penalized for not being 70s-era hippies. I personally may want to sit around all day and talk about art, philosophy, and the state of the world, but I'm postmodern enough to realize that not every student wants or will do this, and to accept their pragmatism and not judge it (much).
The only sensible part of this article was Marck Flacks's part, placing Millenials in their context. Our society DOES reward and promote selfishness and writers at the Tribune should write an article about that instead of about how shocking and unexpected this new generation is, and how absolutely horribly we're behaving.
Sorry to react so strongly to the article itself instead of engaging the issue, but shoddy and sensationalist journalism bothers me. Maybe I'm just so special that I can't stand criticism of my own generation, eh? ;)
lareinenoire From: lareinenoire Date: February 28th, 2007 11:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Umm...they're generalising. A lot.

As someone who *does*, admittedly, walk around plugged into her iPod (I have a 30-minute walk to get to the library from my house and it makes the trip go faster), I certainly wouldn't call myself narcissistic. At least not in any pathological sense, certainly.

The main point of this article seems to be that Gen Y is Worse Than Us™. Now, really. Is it at least possible that there might be some selfish purpose behind that?

I can only speak as someone who had an upper-middle-class upbringing, but I remember growing up during the very beginnings of what I like to think of as regimented childhood. My parents more or less left me to my own devices, but one of my mother's best friends completely scripted both of her children's days. They *never* had any free time, literally. We only saw them in the gaps between their various camps, school newspaper meetings, organised sports, debate clubs, and God only knows what. Ultimately, both of them ended up at Harvard and I'm fairly sure both are in med school there now. I have no idea if they're happy. Presumably they're not miserable, but it's difficult to say.

I, on the other hand, am studying a subject I love (English) at a university I've wanted to attend since I was fourteen (Oxford). It was a longer and somewhat more circuitous route, but I eventually got there. And I think I'm rightfully proud of that because it took a lot of hard work.

This is not to say that there aren't narcissistic people in Gen Y. I think there are -- but I don't think there are any more than in any previous generation. Not all people growing up in the 70's were hippies, after all. And someone ought to do a study on where those 'hippies' are now. My guess would be ultra-conservative Republicans hanging onto their tax cuts. Now who's narcissistic?

Overall, I found the article to be patronising and possibly bordering on insulting. It's a pet peeve of mine when people make generalisations based on a small study and present it as fact.
verdenia From: verdenia Date: March 3rd, 2007 12:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Not all people growing up in the 70's were hippies, after all. And someone ought to do a study on where those 'hippies' are now. My guess would be ultra-conservative Republicans hanging onto their tax cuts.

To be fair, there are still old hippies left--I know several of them personally. But then, I'm in California, and have met many of them in the Old Hippie Enclaves--Berkeley and Santa Cruz. ;P

In general, though, once people make a lot of money, they want to hold onto it. So maybe they become Repubs, or maybe they go Libertarian.

Regardless, I rather doubt that they'd be ultra-conservative. Just because you want a tax break doesn't mean that social values automatically change.
lareinenoire From: lareinenoire Date: March 3rd, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is true...I do know old hippies. But I do also know those who were once hippies but went conservative when they acquired money, as you said.

I was probably being overly critical; that article just annoyed me with its general sense of panic and 'there's something horrifically wrong with this generation', when I really don't think our generation is any worse than previous ones.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 3rd, 2007 04:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Most of the rich people I know are Democrats, and most of the Republicans I know are, well... not rich. I don't think there's a particularly strong connection there.

The article is overcritical, though I did pick up the book it refers to at the library, and the book is much less of this--it basically says that your generation, whether or not you happen to fit into its tropes, is going to have an effect on you--it's kind of the social language that you speak natively. It actually doesn't draw a distinction between Gen X and Gen Y, and brings up a lot of questions about why we all feel so miserable (after being raised with the belief, for instance, that "You can be anything you want to be!" as a core truth of the world, it's a rude and painful shock to find out that not everyone can be rich, famous, or an artist, and it causes genuine distress that other generations, who had no such expectations, haven't had to deal with).
lareinenoire From: lareinenoire Date: March 3rd, 2007 04:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
The book actually sounds very interesting -- I was just annoyed that the article took that extra step forward. It is a good point on the 'You can be anything you want to be' idea; that was only starting to come into fashion when I was little, I remember. It really is a matter of moderation, I think. You don't want to bully little children, especially, into thinking they'll never amount to anything, but you don't want to promise them the moon and stars either...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 3rd, 2007 05:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
It actually is turning out to be interesting. I'm in the section on our romantic relationships... and other relationships, for that matter. It talks about an epidemic of loneliness because we lack any sort of group to fall back on, and because you have to be socially aggressive to join pre-existing informal groups. Add that to the corrollary to "You can be whatever you want to be, if you believe and try hard"--which is, "If you're not, it's your fault"--and the weird belief that it's more important to love yourself than to love other people (the two were so often taught as being unconnected), and you get a whole lot of unhappiness going on.
lareinenoire From: lareinenoire Date: March 3rd, 2007 06:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
It talks about an epidemic of loneliness because we lack any sort of group to fall back on, and because you have to be socially aggressive to join pre-existing informal groups,

That is curious...now, I'll admit I'm not entirely certain of the parameters that make up 'Gen Y'. I always assumed I was part of it since I was born in '83, but I'm never completely certain. Because if they're looking at teenagers, that's a huge problem. Adolescence is bad enough without people telling you it's your own fault that you have no friends.
the_jackalope From: the_jackalope Date: February 28th, 2007 01:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yea, I'm going to go with a bit of an overreaction. Just because we/they (I'm right on the cusp of the X/Y line) don't have the same values as they do the Boomers are going nuts. "Those damn kids get 'em off my lawn" sort of stuff. This line especially cracks me up:

But that survey also showed that current freshmen are much more interested in financial success and less in "a meaningful philosophy of life" than students were in the 1970s.

And it's not like I don't think the article has a point, but I don't think it is anywhere near as serious as the article makes it out to be. Mountians and molehills and all that jazz.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 28th, 2007 03:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, that line was great for the lulz. They said exactly the same thing with Gen X. They want to make money, ZOMG! (Granted, I'd have preferred a nice, Tolkienian ivory tower, but then, that's not what the boom was after, either. They wanted us to still be protesting Vietnam. Stop the war after we surrendered and turned tail!!!)
ladyelaine From: ladyelaine Date: February 28th, 2007 01:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
What are they going to call it after they reach Generation Z?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 28th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
They'll have to start with cutesy names again, like "The Lost Generation" or "The Gilded Generation." (Howe and Strauss--who make a lot of generalizations, but are somewhat less annoying becaues they talk about the strengths rather than how much the upcoming generation sucks--already use different terms, with 13ers for GenX and Millennials for GenY.)
(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 28th, 2007 05:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
By H&S reckoning, Gen X is the 13th generation since the permanent colonies were established. It's all a little weird, though I kind of like their approach in the sense that they take the unusual tack of looking at the childhood world that people would have lived in and had shape their points of view of what's important later on in life. Besides, anything that puts me in a group with John Adams and Mark Twain is a good thing. ;p
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 28th, 2007 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
(Oops, checked, I lied--it's since the first Revolutionary War generation. It's real, family line generations that take me back to settlement as the thirteenth generation in the country.)
aebhel From: aebhel Date: March 1st, 2007 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, as a 21-year-old college student, I'm really kind of...offended by that. Very offended, actually. It really gets on my nerves when college professors bemoan the fact that "these horrible people...they want to make MONEY with their degrees! The awfulness of it all!" We live in a society where you pretty much need a college degree to make a halfway decent living in any kind of professional field. Maybe it makes me a horrible person, but I don't have any ideals that are going to be irreparably compromised by having a steady job and a means to pay the rent.

And where do they get off saying that we're more narcissistic than previous generations? Young people are cocky and stupid. It's a function of being young, not of being born in a certain generation. I do think that the tendency toward micromanaging kids lives is, well, bad, but it also seems to be hugely exaggerated. It's a trend that exists more or less entirely in the suburban upper-middle class, and despite what these people would have us think, not everyone grows up in a suburban, upper-middle class family.
verdenia From: verdenia Date: March 3rd, 2007 12:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yup, the micro-management and volunteering-for-academic-reasons stuff does seem like a very middle/upper-middle/upper class set of practices.

I'm near the end of Gen X, my middle sis is on the border, and our youngest sibs are Y...I saw those things more with other kids than our own family, but we did have some activities.

Some truth to the article, yeah. It'll be interesting to see if it qualifies as scholarly.

I did see people there for the Diploma even amongst my high school class--maybe a bit less at my college: a Major State hippie University. ;P

Certainly agree that False Confidence is Bad. ;P

Urgh...must sleep! ;s
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