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For Your Reading Pleasure

Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - and More Miserable Than Ever Before

by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D.

book cover

“Men resemble the times more than they resemble their fathers.” - Ancient Arab proverb

There’s been a lot of talk recently about people of my generation. Often referred to as Millenials, GenX or GenY, Jean Twenge calls us: Generation Me (GenMe). Those of us born after 1971 (though I personally think post-1980 is more accurate), for the most part, we are the children and grandchildren of the Boomers. We are too young to have really experienced any part of the Cold War or remember a time before the Internet. We grew up with sesame street and most of us were still in school when 9/11 happened.

At the beginning of the last chapter, Twenge sums up GenMe as follows:

So here’s how it looks: Generation Me has the highest self-esteem of any generation, but also the most depression. We are more free and equal, but also more cynical. We expect to follow our dreams, but are anxious about making that happen.

From the rest of the book, it appears GenMe has a pretty steady dichotomy of traits. On average, we have higher self-esteem and we are more free and accepting of other cultures and lifestyles. We are for greater equality and are more confident and assertive. The flip side is that we also have higher anxiety and depression, take criticism poorly and are easily disheartened and cynical (especially with politics). We feel entitled and are generally more narcissistic than those that came before.

According to Twenge, it appears most of GenMe’s biggest problems (being directionless, loneliness, narcissism, anxiety/depression, apathy, lack of community) stem from one common place: the meritless “self-esteem” programs we took part in as children. From very early on, we are taught that “everyone is special” and that “we can be anything we want to be.” But these ideas are fed to us without teaching us WHY we are special and how we can be better. There isn’t an emphasis on teaching self control or hard work, but merely that we are all “unique snowflakes.” As a result, we have become increasingly more narcissistic and selfish than previous generations. We put a great deal of focus on our own needs, resulting in older generations often perceiving us as spoiled. And it’s because of this increased emphasis on self, and always being told we are special, that we tend to look down upon conformity, and value personal expression and individuality (this might help explain why so many of us are so appearance obsessed and why trends like tattoos and piercings have increased in popularity).

Some Complaints I had:

  • Twenge, born in 1972, is at the very earliest of what she considers to be “Generation Me”. At times, it feels like this is more of a device to make the reader less defensive. For readers outside this generation, it’s presented like she, an insider, is giving away all our secrets. A “trust me, I know.” For readers that are in this generation, it’s a way of saying, “don’t blame me, I’m one of you… I’m just presenting the facts.” I totally get why it’s done this way, so not to come off as attacking and “young kids today,” but at times it seems to be blatantly thrown in for some sort of added credibility.
  • The primary source for a lot of the Twenge’s information comes from surveys. Sure, this information is great to have, but I’m sure fairly accurate, it still relies on people being honest. Sure, the surveys are taken anonymously and the people have no reason to lie, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t. It also doesn’t mean that people answer honestly based on the fact that they may not really understand how they feel. I always had a hard time taking these surveys and would often just frivolously answer questions just so I could get back to drinking with my friends.
  • A lot of the research is conducted with college students. While this is a great place to gather this information, it seems entirely skewed towards larger numbers of upper and middle class whites. Twenge talks a decent amount about race and different cultures, but there were a couple times while reading that I wondered if there were greater cultural and/or race factors that might be involved in findings.
  • Twenge criticizes the telling of GenMe that we can be anything we want. That it causes us to have unrealistic expectations. But I think that in many ways, it’s good (and needed) as long as you make sure to show that it requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Sometimes a bit of delusional or blind optimism is needed to actually accomplish the impossible. Sure, eventually you learn that you’re not going to be an NBA player, but as a kid when you still have the potential to be one, you have to believe you can if you ever want to achieve it. I think Twinge’s criticism of this is merely a result of generational cynicism.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Granted, you could probably save yourself a lot of time and just read the last chapter and get a pretty decent overview of what was talked about and what the author thinks we should do to better deal with members of “Generation Me” as well as what changes we should make to prevent some of the negative traits in future generations. I’m not entirely sold that Twenge is totally accurate in her depiction of my generation, but I realize that I’m biased and I’ve really only had a limited and probably sheltered experience with my own generation. That being said, I think she was pretty spot on with a vast majority of her points, so it’s definitely worth a read if this type of thing interests you.

Additional Notes:

Chapters:
  1. You Don’t Need Their Approval: The Decline of Social Rules
  2. An Army of One: Me
  3. You Can Be Anything You Want to Be
  4. The Age of Anxiety (and Depression, and Loneliness): Generation Stressed
  5. Yeah, Right: The Belief That There’s No Point in Trying
  6. Sex: Generation Prude Meets Generation Crude
  7. The Equality Revolution
  8. Applying Our Knowledge
Improvements for parental care
  • create a nationwide system of paid parental leave.
  • create a system of public preschools for 3-4 year olds.
  • make child care expenses tax-deductible.
  • change school hours (to 9-5)
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.
  • don’t use words like spoiled.
Advise for GenMe
  • limit exposure to certain kinds of tv (like cribs and the fabulous life of…)
  • avoid over thinking
  • value social relationships
  • combat depression naturally
  • cultivate realistic expectations.
  • get involved in your neighborhood

Thanks to Heather Hynes, Colin Young and Kate Peterson for reading drafts of this.

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  1. zackgilbert posted this