Generation Me

Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before


Jean M. Twenge

Free Press, 2006, 292 pp.   ISBN 978-0-7432-7697-9


Twenge is associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University whose research has been published in several national magazines.  She writes about the generation born in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.  She was born in 1971.  She writes from a secular perspective on the basis of her voluminous research. 


Generation Me has created a profound shift in what it means to be an individual in today’s society.  This generation has been actively taught to put themselves and their own needs first and to focus on feeling good about themselves, thus the name, GenMe.  This is in direct opposition to the family-first, group-oriented ethos of many cultures in the world. (8)   


Chapter 1.  You Don’t Need Their Approval: The Decline of Social Rules. 

“Being different is good.”  “It’s a mantra GenMe has heard over and over.  We absorbed the lesson of tolerance with our baby food—not just for race and religion, but for sexual orientation, beliefs, feelings, and all kinds of other intangibles.  Just about the only difference that wasn’t good?  Someone who was prejudiced.” (25)     


“Basic consideration for others seems to be on the wane as well.”  “This breakdown in consideration and loyalty, and the increase in cheating, reaches all the way to the top.” (such as the Enron business scandal.)  “‘Downsizing’ and ‘outsourcing’ are the modern corporate equivalents of rudeness—and a lot more devastating.”  “Cheating on tests easily translates to cheating on the balance sheet.”  “In an increasingly competitive world, the temptation to cheat will be ever stronger for GenMe.” (16-8)


“But GenMe doesn’t just question authority—we disrespect it entirely.” (28) 


GenMe is not very religious.  Only 18% of 18-29-year-olds attend religious services every week.”  The belief systems of young people are ‘highly individualized,’ make-your-own-religions.  Everybody has their own idea of God and what God is.  (34)  As one young woman said, “I just didn’t like having anyone telling me what my lifestyle should be.” (35)  Another woman stopped believing because feeling guilty made her unhappy.


“Some managers are surprised at young people’s willingness to critique the performance of older people—it’s a combination of the eroding respect for authority and the compulsive honesty of the younger generation. … Young people see their directness as an asset.”  It’s more ‘true to yourself’ to be honest than to be polite.  (39) 


“The culture of self is our home town.”  “We simply take it for granted that we should all feel good about ourselves, we are all special, and we all deserve to follow our dreams.” (49)  Most of today’s common sense is focused on the self.  Just be yourself.   You have to love yourself before you can love someone else.  Express yourself.  Stand up for yourself.  (50)


In the years after 1980, there was a pervasive, society-wide effort to increase children’s self-esteem, to help them feel good about themselves for no particular reason, usually promoting feelings that are actually a lot closer to narcissism, i.e. excessive self-importance.  Feeling good is more important than performance.  This is a “cotton-candy sense of self with no basis in reality.”  (53-4)


This is echoed in a lot of Christian literature and curriculum for children.  A very common theme goes something like, “You can believe what others say about you, or you can believe in yourself as does God, who says you are truly acceptable, lovable, valuable, and capable.” (The author claims to quote Rick Warren with this statement.) (58)


The results are young people who can’t take criticism, who are easily hurt, who tend toward whiny defensiveness and little learning, and who become unfriendly, rude, and uncooperative.  “They tend to act as though they believe they have worthy and good inner essences, regardless of … how they behave, that they deserve recognition and attention from others, and their unique individual needs should be considered first and foremost.” (65) 


The author’s recommendation: “Forget about self-esteem and concentrate more on self-control and self-discipline. … Self esteem is an outcome, not a cause. … Children develop true self-esteem from behaving well and accomplishing things.” (66) 


Chapter 3.  You Can Be Anything You Want to Be

“The logical outcome of every kid having high self-esteem is every kid thinking that he can achieve anything.” (78)  Work should provide a rich and fulfilling experience as well as make me rich.  (80)  Of course, this often clashes with reality.  “Many twentysomethings struggle with the decision to keep pursuing their dream, or to cut their losses and go home.  More and more young people are going to find themselves at 30 without a viable career, a house, or any semblance of stability.” (83) 


Many expect to be famous.  “Reality television has spawned a generation of viewers who feel entitled to be on camera.” (88)  “Blogs are built around the idea that everyone wants to hear your thoughts.” (89)


One of the most widely accepted cultural aphorism is that you must love yourself before you can love others.  Of course many in earlier generations loved their spouses and children even though they never thought about loving themselves.  But pop psychology [and much Christian material per dlm] teaches us otherwise.  Make sacrifices for yourself.  Make yourself happy first.  Be there for yourself.  This is narcissism—narcissists are people who really love themselves and aren’t very good at getting along with others. (92)  “It’s difficult to adapt to another person’s needs when you’re used to putting your own needs first and doing things your way.” (93) 


The most common reason given for tattoos is “self-expression,” to communicate my individuality.  For many, adulthood begins at 30 [compared to perhaps 12 or 14 for our great grandparents] and the 20s are a time to move around, try things, and date people.  (97) 


“Materialism is the most obvious outcome of a straightforward, practical focus on the self: you want more things for yourself.  You feel entitled to get the best in life;… you deserve special things.” (100) 


Chapter 4.  The Age of Anxiety (and Depression, and Loneliness): Generation Stressed

Expectations are very high just when good jobs and nice houses are much harder to get.   When we are fiercely independent and self-sufficient, our disappointments loom large because we have nothing else to focus on.  The result can be crippling anxiety and crushing depression.  (109) 


Social contacts are slight and superficial.  There is a famine of warm relationships.  “We’re malnourished from eating a junk-food diet of instant messages, e-mail, and phone calls, rather than the healthy food of live, in-person interaction.” (110)      Almost half have divorced parents or have never known their father.  “The cycle of meeting someone, falling in love, and breaking up is a formula for anxiety and depression.  This often begins in high school.” (111)  “Many spend their twenties in pointless dating, uncertain relationships, and painful breakups.” (112)  “Even people in unhappy marriages are happier than those who divorce.” (115)


You need a college degree to be where high school graduates were a generation ago.  Essentials such as housing and health care are astronomically expensive.   “High expectations can be the stuff of inspiration, but more often they set GenMe up for bitter disappointment.” (130) 


The vast majority of young people couldn’t care less about politics. (138)  “It makes more sense psychologically to believe in fate.  If you don’t, your self-esteem will plummet each time you fail.” (148)  “The victim mentality arises full force in schools, where teachers often bear the brunt of these attitudes.” (153) Students and their parents hold teachers responsible for their grades.  They are often defiant and argumentative.  “Teens who have been told their whole lives that they are special will desperately try to protect their self-esteem, and many will choose cynicism as their armor of choice.” (156) 


“Perhaps because they don’t think their actions will have consequences, externals have weakened self-control and an inability to delay gratification.  They’re less likely to work hard today to get a reward tomorrow….  Externality and low self-control are also correlated with the impulsive actions that tend to get young people into trouble, like shoplifting, fighting, or having unprotected sex.” (157)


Chapter 6: Sex: Generation Prude Meets Generation Crude

“Waiting for marriage is, to put it mildly, quaint.” “…do what feels good for you, and ignore the rules of society.”  (160)  The standard of ‘being true to yourself’ drives the sexual decisions of young women.  Sexual choices depend on the individual.  Sex in high school is the majority experience.  75% of young people (80% of young women) approve of sex before marriage.  (163)   Young people are comfortable talking about sex in great detail. “The most striking shift in teenage and twentysomething sexual behavior in the last decade is the disconnect between sex and emotional involvement.” (167)  Teens that watch a lot of sexual content on TV are twice as likely to engage in sex.  (171) 


Chapter 7.  The Equality Revolution: Minorities, Women, and Gays and Lesbians

“We are less likely to believe in moral absolutes, so we are tolerant and accept diversity in all its forms.” (181)


Women prepare for careers but find themselves trapped between needing two incomes to survive and the high cost of day care.  Twenge advocates a nationally organized and sponsored day care program. 


Chapter 8.  Applying Our Knowledge: The Future of Business and the Future of the Young

There will be a full-scale collision between GenMe expectations and the unfortunate realities of life that will lead to a lot of anxiety, depression, and complaining. Young employees will expect job fulfillment and quick promotions.  Employers must try to understand GenMe with their high expectations for salary, job flexibility, and duties.  They were raised on extensive praise and expect it.  They are not motivated by duty.  They will be frank and they appreciate directness, but they do not take criticism well.  They do not respect authority and will feel free to make suggestions.  You have to earn their respect.  They will learn best by interaction and doing, not by listening or reading.  They are flexible and used to dealing with diversity.  They may have to be taught to clean up their attitude and language when talking with older folk.  They appreciate independence, flexible schedules, and casual dress code.   [Let me know how this all works for you! Dlm]


Recommendations:  Ditch the self-esteem movement.  We’re creating an army of little narcissists.  (223)  Provide better career counseling.  Create more support for working parents [the author’s hot button]. 


Recommendations for parents:  “Junk the self-esteem emphasis and teach self-control and good behavior.”  “Do not automatically side with your child.”  “Limit exposure to violence.”  (235-36)


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