Older generations dismissing the younger generation as self-involved is nothing new. Boomers did it to Generation X and now, as shown in the Timecover article by Joel Stein, Generation X to the Millennial. Therefore, the more interesting question is this: why are Millennials perceived as the “Me Me Me” generation this time around? This is my response to the aforementioned article.
I do not doubt that there are narcissists living among the Millennials. However, I believe there is a misconception that narcissism is the result of vanity and self-centeredness (“loving oneself excessively”) when, in fact, they are just possible symptoms of narcissism itself. So what is the cause of this apparent rise of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) in the Millennial generation? In my opinion, three reasons:
*The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual is knowingly flawed in its ability to categorize mental illness. NPD diagnosis still remains a contentious topic, even in the latest edition of the manual released this past month. A 300% increase, therefore, may be indicative of a procedural failure rather than a statistically significant finding for this population of youths.
*Now assuming diagnostic methods to be valid, the qualities of narcissism are “usually defenses against a deep feeling of inferiority and of being unloved” (Kohut). So perhaps the better characterization of Millennials is not so much one of narcissism, but rather one of feeling inferior and being unloved. But of course, this speaks poorly of the older generation. And Stein, representing Generation X, understandably wants none of that.
*The Age of Technology distorts the perception of the observer (see below).
Technology has increased the capacity and ease with which to maintain our social network – that is without question. But are these connections more meaningful than those before the age of Web 2.0? Many researchers would argue no. Behavioral studies show that the proliferation of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have diluted the satisfaction of connecting with another human being. You simply cannot substitute a tweet or status update for a real, physical face-to-face conversation. So as people continue to post the intimate details of their lives by posting pictures, status updates, and videos online for all to see, I would advise the older generations to consider this: are Millennials doing this because they are in love with themselves or because they are looking for acknowledgement, for someone to care in a digital pool of loosely-connected “friends”?
Yes, college graduates are staying home and rejecting menial jobs. But I believe these habits tend to start with broken confidence rather than laziness. Millennials, more than any other generation, were brought up with the mentality that higher education is the key to success. Study hard and you will achieve your dreams. But when this oversimplified principle fails to translate into that “dream job,” many Millennials do not know what their next action should be.
The truth hits graduates hard when they are thrust into the job hunt to find that everyone in the applicant pool is also a college graduate: academic inflation is diluting the power of an undergraduate degree to leverage jobs. The saying “it’s not what you know, but who know” is becoming more and more relevant over time. The system does not necessarily reward merit. It’s a reality that students may find incomprehensible if they were encouraged to spend most of their time scouring books instead of building their network.
And although economic recessions are an inevitable experience for all generations, the economic landscape is never exactly the same as it was before. Youth unemployment is currently a global problem. As the economy is gradually recovering, youth unemployment continues to flat-line. A huge influx of applications to a static number of professional school enrollment slots is causing a huge bottlenecking effect. Even factoring in inflation, absurdly high tuition fees and student loan interest rates are diminishing the average return on investment for higher education. Moreover, the culture of unpaid internships is making entry-level jobs almost inaccessible to those carrying debt.
There is no question that this is a difficult time to enter the workforce.
I think that’s the key factor to understand for both the Millennial generation and their parents: it’s not going to be easy. And as much as we’d like to remove the complexity of teaching a child how to be prepared for the harsh realities of the economy, the truth is obvious: getting a job is not going to be as simple as studying hard and getting straight “A’s.” To suggest otherwise is to deliberately cause harm to the Millennials’ future when they find out just how ill-prepared they really are. Learning how to build self-confidence and how to develop networking skills is an important part of the equation, but rarely emphasized in areas outside the business sphere. It’s time we started doing so.
This video offers a comedic look at entitlement in the Millennial generation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrPGoPFRUdc
Joking aside, I will speak more from an anecdotal point of view for this characteristic. Much of what could be said for entitlement has already been said for the others. Entitlement tends to stem from laziness and narcissism after all.
My experience is that a large majority of Millennials are cynics when it comes to politics. This is because we do not trust the government to operate in the best interests of our generation. This is a fair assessment to make because the current political climate is typically a short-term game and many of the big decisions are currently made by the baby boomers at the top of the ladder. Topics that do affect Millennials – such as climate change and education – are frequently pushed to the bottom of the political agenda or are given short-term solutions. We want change now and for the future, but we do not how to achieve such change through conventional politics or are averse to it because of the culture of lobbyists and the partisan political gridlock.
I think this is where the sense of entitlement comes into play: wanting change but being unable to explain how. Being unable to explain why like the student in the video above is just plain ignorance. But one should not take this small sample of clueless, entitled individuals in the media to accurately represent the whole population. I dare the older generations to ask us Millennials what we think. I’m sure they will be surprised. And in a good way.
As humans, we love to characterize groups and place them into distinct categories. It is an instinctual part of us to do so. But we should take caution because such actions can lead us to accept observations without really understanding why. Sure, it could be that Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists. But, as with any nature versus nurture debate, who are the responsible parties: the Millennials, their parents, or society?