(Slightly Altered Version of TIME cover)
“I am about to do what old people have done throughout history,” Joel Stein warned in his May 9th cover story for Time (“THE ME, ME, ME GENERATION”), “call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow.” And that’s only the beginning of the name-calling. But Stein claims that, unlike previous examples of generational kid-hating, this time: “I have proof.” One of the key studies he provides as evidence is from the National Institutes of Health: “The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older….”
“Narcissistic personality disorder” – wow, that does sound BAD: imagine that you’re so in love with yourself that doctors have to give it an official name (although they did cut the disorder from the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder). But guess what? When The Atlantic – another newsy magazine – looked at that National Institute study that Stein based his “cold hard facts” on, those facts seemed kinda fuzzy. The Atlantic referred to a paper titled “It Is Developmental Me, Not Generation Me,” in which psychologists argue that there is actually no increase in narcissism in younger people – once the current study’s statistics are properly compared to previous studies from earlier generations. Another sort of obvious thing about young people that the psychologists point out (and that The Atlantic snappily rephrased): “Basically, it’s not that people born after 1980 are narcissists, it’s that young people are narcissists, and they get over themselves as they get older.” Something else the psychologists say, which is just as important: “[W]hen older people…confuse the claim for generational change with the fact that younger people are simply more narcissistic than they are…[t]he confusion leads to an increased likelihood that older individuals will agree with the Generation Me argument despite its lack of…support.”
That may help explain the popularity of people like Jean Twenge, who wrote a book in 2006 called (big surprise!) Generation Me. Twenge always manages to be quoted in every single article out there criticizing young people, and the Time cover story is no exception: “When [kids are] little it seems cute to tell them they’re special or a princess or a rock star or whatever their T-shirt says. When they’re 14 it’s no longer cute.” Twenge, who lectures around the country about how self-obsessed kids are “oversharing” on social media, may be the one being “cute” here – by overselling the influence of sites like Facebook. According to a huge, new survey done by the highly respected Pew Charitable Trust, actually few kids “embrace a fully public approach to social media.” And, they’re not oversharing with strangers either (“Teens’ Facebook friendship networks largely mirror their offline networks”). In fact, 70% of teen FB users “friend” their parents, and a whopping 91% “friend” extended family members.
That sounds like pretty grown-up behavior for a bunch of self-absorbed kids.