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Why Millennials Are So Self-Centered

Time magazine put our adult children on its cover last year and dubbed them “Generation Me, Me, Me.” In response, some critics noted that several generations — notably baby boomers — could also wear the “all about me” tag.

Generation Me book cover

Not so, argues Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor. She cites dozens of research studies to make her point that millennials do indeed deserve the “Generation Me” label. That just happens to be the title of her book. Her controversial take on millennials is found in the book’s subtitle: “Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before.”

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We chatted last week when the revised edition of her book was published. While boomers admit to raising trophy kids brimming with self-esteem, we parents don’t need to take all the blame for creating a self-centered generation. Twenge, herself a Gen-Xer, also points to cultural changes.

The explosion of social media has resulted in attention seeking, information sharing and impatience. Look no further than “ selfies” and Facebook posts and Google searches. Growing up with instantaneous information and connection, millennials have come to expect life to turn on a dime, Twenge says. “Not everything works that way, especially important things in life like relationships and building a career." The result: disappointment and depression when expectations don’t match reality.

Twenge’s research dissected popular culture in books and songs to find evidence of increased use of “me, me, me.” Using a nifty Google tool called an “ Ngram Viewer,” she found that language use has shifted away from pronouns “we” and “us” to “I” and “me.” In songs, she charted an increase in "lust" and “me” over “love” and “you.” While these cultural changes affect society as a whole, they affect the youngest generation the most because they grew up living them.

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Today’s young adults live in a much more competitive world than their parents did, and they have less face-to-face interaction because of social media and the increase in living alone.  As a result, Twenge finds, many millennials are actually lonely. “We need to get away from a modern notion that needing other people means you’re weak; needing other people means you’re human,” she says. Maybe it’s time to recall that 1979 ad slogan and “reach out and touch someone” — in this case, our young adults.

Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.

Photo: Courtesy of Jean Twenge

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