Over the last couple of weeks, i’ve been telling loads of folks to go read Jean Twenge’s Generation Me and i realized i should probably share it with all y’all. Unlike most books on generations, this is a social psych analaysis of different behavioral characteristics over the decades. Translation: there’s a shitload of data here. The book is a bit too pop psychology for my tastes, but it makes it very accessible.
In “Generation Me,” Twenge outlines key characteristics of the current generation of teens/20-somethings that differentiate them from previous generations. For example, she goes through the data on narcissism and self-esteem, looking at how the self-esteem movement in the 1980s is directly correlated with the narcissism we see now. Some of what she points out is painfully present in our current conversation of Virginia Tech:
“Unfortunately, narcissism can lead to outcomes far worse than grade grubbing. Several studies have found that narcissists lash out aggressively when they are insulted or rejected. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the teenage gunmen at Columbine High School, made statements remarkably similar to items on the most popular narcissism questionnaire. On a videotape made before the shootings, Harris picked up a gun, made a shooting noise, and said “Isn’t it fun to get the respect we’re going to deserve?” (Chillingly similar to the narcissism item “I insist upon getting the respect that is due me.”) … Abusive husbands who threaten to kill their wives – and tragically sometimes do – are the ultimate narcissists. They see everyone and everything in terms of fulfilling their needs, and become very angry and aggressive when things don’t go exactly their way. Many workplace shootings occur after an employee is fired and decides that he’ll “show” everyone how powerful he is.” (Twenge 2006, 70-71)
I’ve been running around the country interviewing teens and this is the first book on generations that i’ve found that hits the mark dead-on. Eerily so. Much of it is quite bothersome. Twenge does an amazing job at outlining how our schools have become completely useless at educating because it’s more important to make students feel good than to be critical of their work. When i was in Iowa, i had a mother explain to me that teachers couldn’t give bad grades to rich students at the local high school because the country club moms would pressure the schools to fire such overly critical teachers.
Twenge unpacks the problems with the “You can be anything you want!” value, looking critically at how this sets up unrealistic expectations that result in all sorts of social chaos.
Anyhow, i’ll leave it at that and hope that i’ve whet your appetite just a whee bit. This is a must read if you’re a parent, a teacher, a marketer, a designer, a politician or otherwise interested in the under-25 crowd. (And if you’re not, how on earth can you stand this blog these days?) So, please, go read Generation Me and report back here what you think.