Wednesday, March 07, 2007

In Defense of Youth

There is an article on about a survey of narcissism among today's youth.

A little smug self-absorption might be a time-honored trait of at least some subsets of the under-30 crowd.

But over the past few decades the prevailing disposition among college students -- today labeled Generation Y or Millennials -- has slid into full-blown narcissism, according to a study released this week.
a series of "narcissistic personality inventory" questions, each with two possible answers,
Think about that. Two possible answers. When was the last time you took one of these inventories that offered two possible answers? When you did, how often was your true answer not one of the choices? I have been taking these things, both scientific and silly, since the 50s. Rit Dye used to have one in girls' magazines where you answered questions about your personality and they told you what color to dye the bedspread and curtains in your bedroom. My answers were, as in so many of these forced choice tests I've taken since, not listed at all. So, how accurate is the information revealed by this test on narcissism? Having taken courses at UC Berkeley in constructing psychological surveys, I wonder, what are they really measuring? Is it narcissism at all?

I feel competent to speak on this because I am almost 65, and have worked with kids most of my life. I am an Alaska court certified expert on child development and parenting issues, and worked for over ten years with parents in danger of having their parental rights terminated. I have taught parenting classes (and, no, I don't believe in the groundless self-esteem that the authors of this study are talking about) and coached individual parents to improve their ability to discipline and guide their children.

I am currently working with high school students who are interested in preventing underage drinking. I spend at least half an hour with them every week, in addition to several hours at a time doing community service projects. What I know about today's young people does not come from a group of questions to which they can answer only A or B, but from observation, conversation, evaluation, and shared effort. From lots of time actually spent with lots of kids.

My experience and observation is that this is a wonderful generation. They are thoughtful, kind, empathetic, and funny. I go to their classroom at noon for group meetings and, seeing me with my cane, they pull out the one chair in the room that is easy for me to get out of and take my cane and jacket -- and return them to me at the end of the meeting. They distribute handouts for me, come early to projects to help me bring in materials and set up and stay late to assist with clean up. The article mentions that kids of this generation do a lot of community service work, but the authors of the study discount this with the fact that they are required to for school. Yes, they are. The kids I work with are students in health class and required to do 12 hours, and meeting time counts. Most kids do up to 26 hours, and many have been known to stay with the program not only a second semester, but even all four years that they are in high school. Receiving credit for it only that one semester.

A recent study showed that the majority of people dying of drug overdoses are aging baby boomers -- not Millenials. Violence is down with this group of teens. Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use is down. Teen pregnancy is down.

Of course this generation has some narcissistic members, every generation does. And, to some degree, all teens are self-centered. The major task of the teen is to give over childhood and develop an adult self. You can't do this without being more self-centered than either children or adults. However, in my rather long career, I have never seen a less narcissistic generation than the current one. I have never seen a generation that was more attached to parents and had their heads on straighter. I have always seen great kids, and I have always seen not-so-great kids. But, in my experience, the balance tips in favor of the current generation. And I'm getting a little ticked off at hearing them disparaged.

In A Nutshell follows.


J said...

Go Granny, Go!

Sounds like maybe the folks that planned the test got it at one of those silly websites that tell you how long you're going to live based on whether you brush, or what color your brain is, based on whether you get angry often, etc. It's fine when we all know it's silly fun, but when it helps to form people's opinions on a whole generation, that's wrong.

I've never met anyone more narcasistic than ANY teenager, and I remember having my head wrapped up in myself as well. And yet, we all grow out of it, don't we.

Wait, I'll take that back. I've met plenty of adults more narcisistic than most teenagers...

Betty said...

Good post. I never trust tests or surveys any more. The people developing them almost always have an agenda, and skew the tests or surveys to advance their causes.