Recent studies show narcissism and self-indulgence are common behaviors for college students.
People born between 1980 and 2000 have been deemed Generation Y, but some say Generation “Me” is more fitting. With the advent of social media outlets like Twitter, MySpace and Facebook and smartphones like the iPhone and BlackBerrys to give them instant access, Generation Y is gaining a reputation for being self-indulgent, narcissistic and disconnected.
In an ongoing USA Today poll, readers were asked what they considered the biggest trend in behavior for 2009. Narcissism came in first with 33 percent of votes, followed by social networking with 28 percent and recession stress with 20 percent.
In a separate survey by Youth Pulse, an organization that specifically studies behavior of tweens and teens, two-thirds of 1,068 college students said their generation is more narcissistic than previous ones. Additionally, students were asked about their online social-networking habits. Ninety-two percent said they used Facebook or MySpace on a regular basis.
Dr. Joseph Friedman, a clinical psychologist and former assistant professor at Temple, said sites like Facebook and Twitter are not solely to blame for this trend.
“I think they are simply the instrument. They’ve exasperated the situation. They create a false intimacy that people settle for,” Friedman said.
He said there are many factors that contribute to this trend, including the enormous amount of technology and information now available.
“Because of the mere technological advances that make everything so immediately available, young people are not able to wait. They are being trained to be impatient. They have this pseudo-connection to the world. You can talk to anybody anytime, but there is no real intimacy to it,” he said.
Senior English major Marisa Reekie said she sees narcissism among her peers. She blamed the recent jump in advertisements, television, movies and pop culture for transforming Generation Y into Generation Me.
“People are led to believe that with the right products, they can lead better lives. They think if they look the right way and have the right stuff, their life will be improved,” Reekie said, adding that social networking sites are the perfect playgrounds for narcissism.
“It’s about wanting people to see you in a certain way,” she said. “It keeps people constantly aware of what you are doing and thinking, but not in an intelligent way.”
Pamela Pennington, a Temple alumna and former high school teacher, said the kids she taught put a lot of pressure on themselves to be the best and have the most.
“Endless celebrity news, updates and advertisements have us all, adults and children alike, looking toward a lifestyle that’s not really within reach,” Pennington said. “This can be extremely stressful.”
Reekie said even the stress she sees in college life is self-indulgent.
“In my opinion, college has turned from a place of education and personal evolvement into merely a step on the way to the best job, house and car that they can get,” she said.
Friedman said he thinks the American dream has changed: It is now simply to be rich, which for most is unattainable. And the stress involved with attempting to keep up this narcissistic facade is intense, he added.
“Anybody who is under stress is likely to become more of whatever he or she already is,” Friedman said. “If you have the sense that you’re entitled to great things, [that] everyone else is in your way and you’re stressed, you’re going to become more and more narcissistic.”
Friedman said this is where stress and narcissism become problematic – the behavior cycles grow until they implode on themselves.
Friedman said some amount of narcissism is healthy, and as long as it is tied to reality, it’s simply another term for self-confidence. In the past, narcissism has generally faded with age and experience, which Friedman said he believes to be a self-correcting trend, adding that Generation Me is not doomed.
“The world will go through an economic depression. People will change and face reality,” Friedman said. “A new cycle of what we consider conservative or old fashion values will develop but never [will be] quite the same because of ever-growing technology.”
Andrea Hanratty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.