Monday, February 9, 2009

Generation Me Goes to College

They tend to think just showing up to class deserves at least a B and that a birthday celebration in Vegas is a valid excuse for missing a mid-term.

They are modern day teens and twentysomethings, part of generation that San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge dubs "Generation Me."

She said the group of Americans born between 1982 and 2000 - also dubbed Milleniels, iGen and Gen Y - have been told since birth that they are special and so, naturally, they feel entitled to the good life that past generations struggled to achieve.

"They have inflated goals and high expectations," she said. "They are the generation of MySpace and Facebook and Youtube, whose slogan is broadcast yourself. The think it's all about me and of course I'm interesting."

Her book, "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable Than Ever" explores the good and bad in this generation that grew up receiving trophies for simply showing up at soccer games where no scores were kept.

"They don't have the prejudice of previous generations," she said. "They don't judge people by the color of their skin or social background."

But she said their often over-indulgent parents gave them unrealistic expectations about real life.

"They grew up wearing bibs that said `I'm a princess,' she said. "But that doesn't mean the mother was the queen. Too often the mother and father were the royal subjects."

And she said the emphasis on the self puts tremendous pressure on today's college students, who measure themselves against unrealistic standards.

"Their definition of success is winning American Idol," she added.

She urged faculty and staff to help students find connections with others and giving back to the community and also construct a greater spirituality to offset our cultural emphasis on self.

She also told them to use more multimedia instruction, present information in smaller bits and use hands-on classroom activities such as labs. But she, warned, hold them accountable for turning in their work on time.

"In the classroom you're like Oprah - warm and engaging, but if they don't turn in their paper, then tell them 'you're fired,' " she said. 

Twenge studied self-esteem tests for more than 2 million people from those born in the Depression era of the 1930s to Baby Boomers born between 1946 to 1964, the Generation Xers born from 1965 to 1981, to those born after 1982 and found that Americans have become increasingly self-obsessed and even narcisistic. She pointed to a 2006 poll by the Pew Center that found the top goal of college students was becoming rich (80 percent) followed by becoming famous (50 percent) and helping others 30 percent.

"We think feeling good about yourself helps you succeed, but that's not necessarily the case," she said. "Kids may think they're better, but they're legends in their own mind. For college students who think they're so smart they don't really need to study, that overconfidence can lead to failure."

Twenge's research is part of a new book coming out in April titled "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement."

Asked if the current economic meltdown will change the generation's narcissistic ways, Twenge said she doubted it.

"Some of the bling, the materialism, is going away but the desire for it is still there, she said. "Parents are still overindulging their kids and our culture is still obsessed with celebrity. I don't see those things going away yet.

For more information about her book, click here.

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